Sound! Euphonium Interview: Composer Akito Matsuda & Music Producer Shigeru Saito (translated)

This is the third of a series of interviews with various staff members of Sound! Euphonium that was published in the Official Fanbook released by Takarajimasha on September 23.

Composer x Music Producer

Akito Matsuda

Composer/Arranger. Composed music for Baka and Test, Natsuiro Kiseki, and Love, Chunibyou, and Other Delusions.

Shigeru Saito

Music Producer at Lantis. Began work as a producer with Kyoto Animation’s productions and has since produced music for countless anime titles.

Explaining the trusted and unique menu of music for shows

– Please tell us the details of how Matsuda-san was chosen to compose the music for Sound! Euphonium.
Saito: He helped Director (Tatsuya) Ishihara with the music before for Love, Chuunibyou, and Other Delusions. Their affinity for that production was quite good as a pair, and I thought this work would have an extraordinarily high amount of trials and tribulations, so I nominated the positive and proactive Matsuda-kun to give it his best.
Matsuda: There are very few anime that have wind music as a theme and I myself haven’t been involved in any of those productions. I thought it would be a challenge in a new field, so I felt like giving it a shot.

– Do you have any knowledge or experience with wind music Matsuda-san?
Matsuda: It didn’t come up at my college of music, so while I’d like to say that I know a ton of detailed information, that’s not the case at all. (laughs) But I was a member of the concert band from middle until high school, so I was able to use that experience in studying for this production.

– By the way, what instrument did you play?
Matsuda: I played all kinds. (laughs) I started out playing the trombone and then switched to the percussion section. When I graduated from high school, I was studying conducting.

– How did you settled on a concrete direction for the music in this show?
Saito: Usually when I deal with the staff at Kyoto Animation, I produce a large menu of options for the director. After that, the sound director and I begin to plump it up during our discussions. For this show, in addition to how strongly obsessed sound director (Youta) Tsuruoka-san usually is, he also worked as a representative for his company, Rakuonsha, on the production committee. I could easily feel how strong his enthusiasm for working on this show was. Rakuonsha has always been in charge of producing the sounds for Kyoto Animation’s works since they moved from being a subcontractor. Due to how long we’ve worked together, I know that I can propose something and leave it up to the director, and this time Tsuruoka-san, to implement it. When I’d talk about something, Tsuruoka-san would say “I definitely want to do that!” Therefore he had a key role in deciding everything about producing the sound for this show. He spoke with Matsuda-kun about the image for every single piece of music.
Matsuda: Yes. The approach this time felt different than usual for anime; instead of making BGM, it felt like I was making musical creations. Because of that, the titles for our music menu were a bit hard to understand. (laughs) There’s a lot of them that feel literary which later made it to the soundtrack titles like “Spreading Consciousness.”
Saito: Usually when we create a menu for anime, there’s a lot of titles like “fast rhythm, stringed instruments” or “everyday 1,2,3.” It’s rare to see poetic titles like this menu had. We didn’t create tunes with these titles in mind; these words were the memories we had when creating these tunes.
Matsuda: But they aren’t easily expressed when you see them as sheet music. (laughs)

– So were you instructed not to use certain instruments and melodies for this work?
Matsuda: Basically yes. I mentioned that I did not want to use wind instruments before we started since this is a work that has wind music as a theme. If we included them in BGM, people wouldn’t be able to distinguish it from the sound of the instruments during practice scenes.

– Not being able to use wind instruments was quite difficult, wasn’t it?
Matsuda: It was. Usually, you feel safe trusting melodies to wind instruments. (laughs) Since I couldn’t do that this time, when it came to creating melodies, my options were either the piano or woodwinds. It was quite difficult to create variations around those.

– Was there a symbolic instrument?
Saito: It’d have to be either strings or the piano. Rather than say we aimed to use those, we were more or less forced to use them. I’d say Matsuda would agree. (laughs)

– What piece did you start with?
Matsuda: The first BGM piece I made was used for promotion inside the Comiket hall called ”Starting the project (Big Band Ver).” I was asked to create a wind music-like piece for demonstration, we went into a different direction, and eventually it became something with a taste of jazz. Usually, I’m happy inserting some wind music theme in promotion, but here it felt very wasteful to not contemplate how it would be used. Somewhere I thought to use “Crescent Moon Dance,” as the face of this work.
Saito: But I also liked the “That’s Wind Music” kinda feeling for the first tune as well. For a promotional tune, I feel that it was a nice bluff to use a rather jazzish piece.

– “Crescent Moon Dance” is a piece that’s depicted in the novel. Did you keep its descriptions in mind while working on that song?
Matsuda: Of course. It’s depicted as starting with a trumpet melody and then the woodwinds start to pile in, so I remained firmly aware of how that went.
Saito: You remade it how many times, right?
Matsuda: Too many. (laughs)
Saito: There’s many ways that one could interpret that title, so the staff at Kyoto Animation carried with them a complete image of what they wanted the song to be from the beginning. On our side, Matsuda-kun would think about a more smooth melody and then it took time combining the two into the same image. Every time we talked about it, they said to “make it more violent!” (laughs)
Matsuda: That’s right. I wasn’t going to change directions to be too violent.

– What did you keep in mind while working on its trumpet solo part?
Matsuda: When the solo part was first proposed, I thought “isn’t that too easy?” I continued to ask about it, searching for the right level of difficulty. I asked “Is it alright if I put it at a professional level?” (laughs) Additionally, I wrote a very difficult phrase for it. Not only do you have to use all three pistons, but you have to alter the sound that comes from your lips. It’s a very busy phrase that uses lots of high notes as well.
Saito: As we watched this exchange, we were constantly worried over what the performance level would be set at. Almost all of the people who would watch the anime would not be experienced with wind music, but while you don’t want to create something unpleasant for experience musicians, you have to make something so people who know nothing about wind music could understand the situation. Eventually, we settled on having a high level of talent for the skilled players in the anime as it would be easier to convey. We pushed aside the middle level and set the differences in talent at high and low so that it would be easily understood.

– How were the insert music pieces decided?
Saito: We decided on them with all the staff at the scenario meetings. The theme from Abarenbou Shogun was chosen because many people from all walks would know it and it would be a surprisingly entertaining tune. “Rydeen” in episode 5 was from (Naoko) Yamada-san and using “The Place Where We Found Love” as Kumiko and Reina’s duet in episode 8 was Director Ishihara’s wish. When we asked Senzoku Gakuen’s School of Music’s (Masahiro) Owada-sensei “what songs would be good for the rival schools,” he advised us to use “The Fairest of the Fair March” and “Scheherazade” and so we settled it then.
Matsuda: I arranged “The Place Where We Found Love” and it was a bit difficult as I had no visuals to use while arranging. Originally, I had Reina’s trumpet play the melody and Kumiko’s euphonium become the base of the song, but I received an order saying they wished it to be more intertwined like their friendship. From that, I organized it so that the A melody would be the trumpet the first time and the euphonium the second time and the hook would combine the two sounds into one. It took about 5 times of reworking it with small modifications until it was complete.

– Senzoku Gakuen’s Freshmen Wind Ensemble were in charge of performing the pieces. Please tell us how they were asked to participate in this production.
Saito: One of the companies that our firm coordinates music with introduced us to them. We met with the assistant principal and explained our plan to him of which he very cheerfully decided to cooperate with us. Senzoku Gakuen has four wind music courses. One is a course that only the upper two years may choose whom collects a group of skilled players that could put professionals to shame. For us, the Freshmen course that we used was one that all first years must participate in. The assistant principal recommended them to us saying “since this is a high school story, wouldn’t using the freshmen be more realistic since they are the closest in age?” We decided to use them according to his wishes.

– Were there any other benefits that Senzoku Gakuen added to production besides their performances upon collaborating with them?
Saito: Of course. The director and scenario writer (Jukki) Hanada-san went to observe them practice and that observation influenced the work greatly. One of those was watching how the conductor instructed; but there were a lot of things they observed for the first time. For example, a Japanese person has difficulties distinguishing between “B” and “D,” so in a situation where they want to indicate “start from B,” they’ll say “Let’s go from B as in baseball.” As they took notes on statements like that, Taki-sensei’s lines began to take form.

– Were you able to meet them Matsuda-san?
Matsuda: I wasn’t able to directly talk with them. I did meet them while we were recording though.
Saito: Matsuda-kun isn’t a wind music specialist, so he was very nervous at the beginning.
Matsuda: I was.
Saito: When the mentor for Senzoku Gakuen, Owada-sensei, saw the sheet music for “Crescent Moon Dance,” he gave us some hurtful advice. He quickly pointed out points that made him nervous so quickly making me clench my abdominals, but then he said “It’s a good playing piece, so it’s fine.”
Matsuda: While it gave you some relief, it also made you feel a bit uneasy, right? (laughs)
Saito: But when I heard “DREAM SOLISTER Wind Orchestra Ver” play over the final episode, I said “I’ve leveled up. Through these various trials, I’ve gone from the sheet music of “Crescent Moon Dance” to create something even more enjoyable.”
Matsuda: I’m happy to hear that. Rather than clash together, wind music has many points where you can hear the different sounds mingle together. I was able to make the final episode’s ending arrangement come to life because of the experiences I went through with “Crescent Moon Dance”
Saito: When we were recording “Crescent Moon Dance,” we were also recording the classic “FUNICULI FUNICULI” at the same time. Matsuda-kun saying “there’s songs with some easy to play elements in them, huh” when comparing the performance of sheet music he wrote to a song that’s been loved for many years is something that remains with me.
Matsuda: The recording atmosphere is very important. You can see how a song will sound well when performed as compared to by your side when you create it. That’s why I’m always thinking of various things to try next when I watch the recording live.

– Based on that experience, what tricks did you use when creating the orchestral arrangement of the opening theme?
Matsuda: I created “Crescent Moon Dance” with different instruments playing the same phrase to give it that powerful feeling. If I can say a negative, there were no moments where each instrument and each note were given their own emphasis. For the arrangement for the opening theme, I limited the ensemble to only woodwinds and brass while making beautiful chords.

The images obtained through repeating the same pieces

– Let’s return to the background pieces played in the show. Matsuda-san, what pieces did you first create when receiving the orders?
Matsuda: I began with the main theme for the show, “The Beginning Melody.” Tsuruoka-san requested a definitive piece that could be used in many ways, and I feel it’s became quite a good piece in itself. Because of that, I was aware it would be an emotional theme when we also would use it for the climax in the final episode. Also, though I had composed a fair amount of melodies for background music, it was decided that it would be playing as the first episode opened to somehow give it that “beginning” image. Since I had a bit of freedom to do what I wanted for the latter half of the show, I originally wanted to create some long pieces as well. So I slowly began to compose all at once and meandered a bit. That welcomed a lot of troubling points during the BGM composition. (laughs)
Saito: If you overly meander during music development, it’s tough to use when editing. But “The Beginning Melody” is truly a very good piece and is, what I think, the one piece that embodies all of Sound! Euphonium. When you hear it again during that final episode, it sounds like it’s given more strength that time. That tune you created is truly amazing, Matuda-kun.

– Was it true that there were no re-takes for the tunes you composed from Tsuruoka-san?
Matsuda: None at all.
Saito: Tsuruoka-san was quite pleased with the tunes Matsuda-kun created. Even going as far to say “They’re academic.” While Tsuruoka-san would get involved in deciding what tune, I think he would be prepared from the very beginning to meekly accept whatever he was given. From his standpoint, I think that’s quite a challenge. It’s an enjoyable and unpredictable chemical reaction when you toss out an order and let a musician fulfill it. I think it’s a move befitting a veteran sumo wrestler. If a musician isn’t given a chance to grow, then there’s no certainly no meaning at all for its production.

-How many BGM pieces in total were made for this show?
Saito: This show has a bit fewer than usual. Recently, modern anime would have around 40-50 background pieces for a show, but this doesn’t even have 30. Perhaps people who have seen the show would realize that we used the same songs repeatedly for similar scenes. Tsuruoka-san was concerned about building up this image as we moved towards the final episode. As we would watch, it was building up, unbeknownst to us, and making the music in the final episode very moving. Similar to Pavlov’s dogs, when we would play a certain tune, it would be associated with a moving scene. If you use a lot of pieces, this effect wouldn’t happen, so this was a trick we used for this show so that the music would create a maximum effect for the viewers where they could be emotionally invested.

– Which of the background pieces continues to have an impression on you today?
Matsuda: Around the time episode 8 aired, I received an order for more music. I used how I saw the anime on-air while creating “The Flow of Fate”, so that song suggests what I felt while watching the show. I was aware of how that sisterly tune would be inserted and how it would sound while making it.
Saito: Maybe for me it would be the approach of “Crescent Moon Dance.” We consciously used its melody while creating the background music, so it was thanks to doing that for Tsuruoka-san to accumulate those emotions and have a huge effect which remains with me now.

– So all the background music has a taste of “Crescent Moon Dance” in it?
Saito: That’s right. Matsuda-kun did a good job responding to our wishes this time. As an artist, there’s many times where you go through troubles like “make your orders more concrete so I can understand what kind of image you want.” At first, I think Matsuda-kun was perplexed, but as he silently worked with the music, he very much saved us this time around.

– Do you not get beat down while you are composing music?
Saito: I think there’s times we all are, but we don’t show that we are.
Matsuda: But I think this time, due to how we produced it, I frankly didn’t let it show at all. (laughs) I adopted a stance where I would get worried, say there’s no use in getting worried, and then gradually make it take form.
Saito: Because of the unique way we ordered, you had to simply follow up with what you were given. Also, Matsuda-kun would be persistent in wanting to know what we said at the business meetings, which was nothing at all, so I couldn’t say anything else to him. That was reality though, so he had to be prepared to make music however he could. Of course, those were the moments where I was the most busy too. (laughs)
Matsuda: Also, I think you dig your own grave if you listen to so many different things. (laughs)
Saito: If you listen to something, you have to reply to it in your product.

– Were there any memorable scenes that have stayed with you for how they were used?
Matsuda: Perhaps how well “Thoughts Wanted to Convey” was used when Taki-sensei appeared in a scene. My request from Tsuruoka-san was to make a “holy sanctuary” feeling piece, but when we opened the bottle, it became something like Taki-sensei’s theme. (laughs) So while it wasn’t what I had imagined, seeing it was entertaining.
Saito: When it was used in episode 8 by the Agata Festival, it was impressive, but when you look at it overall, it makes a strong impression with Taki-sensei. We had made a court music version as well, but in the end, it wasn’t used in the show.
Matsuda: That’s a bit too individual piece. (laughs) Speaking of episode 8, I was completely surprised at how well the images matched when “The Place Where We Found Love” played. There’s other scenes that felt the same way like the beautiful playing when Yuuko was crying at the re-audition in episode 11.
Saito: I also loved the way that music was played.
Matsuda: It makes me happy when the music I make can evoke those feelings. It’s impressive how many scenes come to mind like that for this show.

– What’s your favorite scene?
Matsuda: I look back at that re-audition scene at times. That tension in the air is absolutely amazing. I think the staff at Kyoto Animation has to prepare some kind of schooling to make those detailed gestures by the characters. It’s not just Reina and Kaori; you can clearly see all the characters’ expressions.
Saito: It’s episode 11 for me too. When you think about it all, not just the performances, you can feel how heartbreaking it is for Yuuko, who wants Kaori-senpai to play the solo.

– Who was your favorite character?
Matsuda: Yuuko. I think it’s absolutely lovely to have a character who tries her hardest for someone else’s sake.
Saito: I like Natsuki personally. She’s not going to be your star athlete, but I think that sense of balance she brings feels nice. She’s like the lubricating oil for the wheels. I feel somewhat similar to her position in my own role.

– Please tell us your impressions about this show.
Matsuda: I’ve written many wind music-esque pieces before, but this was a challenge to write actual music for the first time. It was extraordinarily wonderful to hear the music I wrote played magnificently. I was enchanted. As for the show itself, I feel it’s something that both people who know music and people who don’t can find entertaining. Perhaps it may bring up some old wounds for those experienced musicians, but that too is part of the charm it brings. (laughs) I’m incredibly happy to have participated in this show. Thank you very much for having me.
Saito: I’ve produced the music for various types of anime, but this was the most difficult one in all well meaning. Firstly, this is a group of 50 people with some good and bad players, so finding that right mixture of people is quite unlikely. And then while we’re recording, it’s difficult to ask the students to play an approximate amount poorly. This was my first time as a recording director, so I was nervous about pointing out the things that needed improvement after a performance. Additionally, it was decided that the music scene storyboards would be determined based on the performance, so if the sound was lacking, we would have to continually do it again every time. With all those conditions, this work was the one I spent the most time, effort, and brain power on, but it made a marvelous show. As I have gained new experiences working on this show, I feel blessed to have been able to participate in creating it.

4 thoughts on “Sound! Euphonium Interview: Composer Akito Matsuda & Music Producer Shigeru Saito (translated)

  1. Just read through this, thanks so much for translating! Euphonium is, undisputedly, my favorite anime of all time, and to see such painstaking translation (reading through your other ones too!) really means a lot to me. I appreciate it so much, thank you!❤

  2. Just read through your translation, thank you! Euphonium is, undisputedly, my favorite anime of all time, and to see such painstaking translation (reading through your others too!) really means a lot to me. Thank you!❤

  3. Just dropping by to say a big thank you for providing these for consumption: myself being a relative newcomer to anime and having found instant love in KyoAni works. Reading the content about the composers for Hibike, in particular, was much appreciated, as I’m also a follower of film composers worldwide.

  4. Pingback: Sounding off on anime sound design | HOT CHOCOLATE IN A BOWL

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