27 Mar Front Mission 1St Remake : Meet Sébastien Poncelet
Can you tell us a bit about your academic and professional background?
I started music at the age of 12, winning several national contests in the guitar category. I also played (and still play) the drums, piano, and a lot of singing. I honed my skills in rock/metal bands where I was the singer/guitarist. When I was about 20, I signed with a major record label, I chose to prioritize my musical career over my psychology studies to my parents’ utter despair 🙂 At that time, I toured a lot in France and abroad where I made incredible encounters! Alongside my rocker activities, I worked in advertising and sometimes in television as a composer/sound designer, creator/writer, and voice-over. I lent my voice to big brands, which sometimes made my entourage laugh! ^^
It was in 2003 that I really started video game music, working for a studio that mainly developed flash games, which was in full swing at that time, and for a few independent Parisian studios.
As a little anecdote, no one knows but my music has traveled the world thousands of times (literally), since in 2012, I made a short film in collaboration with the ESA (European Space Agency) and CNES (French National Center for Space Studies) for which I wrote the original soundtrack and sent it into space on board the ISS via Ariane 5.
How do you approach the creation of a soundtrack for a video game?
First, the composition/sound design aspect, starting from a blank sheet, brings a real personality to the graphic universe of the project. People tend to relegate music (and sound in general) to the background; yet, many movie directors will tell you sound is the most important thing! Change the music of a scene and you’ll get a completely different result! I closely collaborate with Art Directors and project managers; there is a real excitement, a trust relationship and enriching exchanges that help me progress in my search for the best possible sound identity.
Then, there’s what I call the “restoration” side, which leads me to rework original works from 90s/2000s games by giving them a fresh look, like art restorers, except that I bring my own style and a more current aspect. My goal is to respect the work of the original artists as much as possible, to get as close as possible to their sounds via more recent software that now allows me to give a new dimension to their tracks. I hope they will appreciate this work that I see as a true tribute! I perform this activity as part of remakes, whose music was sometimes composed through code lines, which I find simply amazing!
I must admit these composers are geniuses, but they sometimes put my brain and nerves to the test with the completely crazy structures of their pieces ! I admire them a lot! Finally, the text/voice aspect takes me to write dialogues, record, and explore a range of voices from the old wise man to the disgusting zombie, including sung voices between Disney and “The Nightmare Before Christmas.” All of this is really thrilling!
What was the most complicated part of "modernizing" the soundtrack of the first Front Mission game?
What surprised me about Front Mission was first the BPM (Beats Per Minute); usually, songs (whether video game music or radio songs) are built on simple rhythmic grids like 80 BPM, 90, 130, etc. Here we are on tempos of 92.576 or 129.982 BPM, measures in 7/4 and other temporal fluctuations in the middle of the song! I always start by decoding the rhythmically pieces by importing them into my DAW (Digital Audio Workstation). I spend a lot of time on this point, which is essential in my opinion.
Then begins the thorough analysis of the title structure and the search for sounds. One title can take me from 1 to 2 days up to more than a week depending on its complexity. Moreover, I never listen to the titles in advance, I keep the surprise.
My friends and clients know I am very demanding of myself! I can stay for hours and hours on a loop of just a few measures until I find the perfect sound or chord!
I can stay for hours and hours on a loop of just a few measures until I find the perfect sound or chord!
How was your collaboration with SQEX?
I have never been in direct contact with Square Enix as such, but of course I know them, like everyone else. By the way, right now I am on “Guardians of the Galaxy” which I personally find very nice!! Clearly, I am proud to have worked on FM1; from what I understand, they rather appreciated mywork. I am tempted to say “Bring on the next one, you know where to find me!!” 🙂
Did you have the opportunity to exchange with Yoko Shimomura who participated in the original soundtrack?
Unfortunately, no I didn’t, but I would have loved to! I don’t know if she listened to my work, in which case, I hope she appreciates my approach which is, as I mentioned earlier, to respect her work to the fullest, to be as close as possible to the artist! Regardless, I am very honored to have been able to bring my expertise to this incredible soundtrack!
What tools do you use?
Currently, I am working on PC with Cubase Pro 11, an RME UCX II sound card, and ADAM 7X monitors. I use a master keyboard and many softwares ike Native Instruments’ Kontakt or the latest EastWest Hollywood Orchestra Opus, a monster that takes up over 2.5 TB and has changed my approach to composing classical music (a real passion) in my latest productions; all in original versions I have to say!! I also sometimes use my guitar (a PRS SE Custom) connected to an old Vox Tonelab valve amp that perfectly does the job in the studio!
Can you give us your Top 5 favorite JV soundtracks ?
I started playing video games when I was around 5 or 6 years old, which was 40 years ago (No, I’m not old!!^^), I experienced the rise of digitalized voices and different scrollings; in my top list, there are some references to a distant, very distant time!
– Pitfall 2 (Atari 2600 – 1984) by David Crane, I have this title stuck in my head since I was a kid, I can’t get rid of it! I wonder if I’m going to cover it for the fun!
– Tied for first: Xenon 2 (Amiga – 1989) and Speedball 2 (Amiga 500 – 1990) Electro music composed by the Bitmap Brothers, the top of the top at that time! I recommend all video game music fans to listen to their work!
– Life is Strange 1 and 2 (PC – 2015/2019) by Jonathan Morali ; Emotional music that really favours the narration, a little gem!
– The Deus Ex: Mankind Divided (PC – 2016) by Michael McCann, Sascha, Dikiciyan, and Ed Harrison. I love the instruments used, the mix, the overall atmosphere! Big level!
– The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (Nintendo 64, 1998) What can I say except that it’s a masterpiece?