Interview: Fumihito Kasatani of Mecano Associates

Fumihito (KASS) Kasatani (Leader of Mecano Associates LLC)
Works: Silpheed, Zeliard, Alisia Dragoon

This is a short interview with Fumihito Kasatani about his company
and the composition done for Alisia Dragoon (Sega Genesis)
Interviewed/translated by Pixelated Audio on 2017.01.10 for Episode 74

PA: Let’s begin with your company. Could you explain to us how Mecano Associates started?

KASS: I (Kasatani) and Aoshima-san founded Mecano Associates LLC in 1986. We were in a band called Modernista in the early 1980s. He played bass and I was a guitarist. And we were good friends.

At that time, TV and Arcade games were the new craze but we only were interested in doing the music. So for our company, Macano Associates, companies would come to us and ask them to create music for their games under a contract.

We didn’t just take whatever job we could get. We were in our 20s and young but we were picky about who we did work for. We only went with companies that respected and cared about the music in their games.

At that time as well as now, in Japanese business culture there’s still a strong SEMPAI/KOHAI mentality, which means elders wanted to be bosses (regardless if you work for them or not) and so when had clients that were older, we had to remain very assertive to produce the sound we wanted. A lot of people told me that i was too namaiki (which is like audacious or impertinent) but we believed that keeping our aspirations was the best way to do business. Anyways, we continued to do game audio for 10 years until I (Kasatani) began to do CM, TV and movies scores.

PA: What was the involvement of other employees or how did the team work?

KASS: It was actually a small company consisting of really just Aoshima and myself (Kasatani) and based on the contract, the staff we’d hire would changeSome of the staff we’d have work across multiple projects (or games) and some would come in part way thru the process.

I believe that most of those people joined after the 90s but since he was doing multiple projects he doesn’t quite remember the team for Alisia Dragoon in detail.

PA: How did Mecano write music for the Mega Drive (Sega Genesis)? Which hardware/software was used?

KASS: I believe we used RECOMPOSER RCP series (by KAMON Music) on the PC88/98 to write the music.

For the sound source, we had to simulate it on the PC (both the FM + PSG) while using the Roland SC88 and SC55 multi-tone generator. But if needed (such as working for games on other hardware) we used an YAMAHA MSX to write the music and sequence it out.

…at that time, the music you create with the synthesizer you can’t achieve the same sound. For example, the sound output by the PC in accordance with the number of simultaneous sounds (or channels), usable sound, and the presence / absence of memory, etc.

So when creating the music, we had to be very careful and mindful about the limitations of the sound hardware (in this case the YM2612 and Sega PSG).

During Alisia Dragoon, the tried to have similar melodies on the PSG kind of ‘shadow’ the FM sound with a slight lag or delay while at the same time using different volumes. This way when a sound effect was playing and taking over an FM channel, the underlaying melody would still be heard causing the player to not realize they were missing much of the overall song. This is method we came up with during Alisia Dragoon but continued using it for future titles we worked on.

In the 90s, we used Studio Vision, Sound Designer II, and Sample Cell on an Apple IIci (for games) and although I used an analogue table and multi in the beginning, this carried over into doing music for TV, CM, and Movies. But I needed more HiFi sound tools and didn’t want quality loss when using analogue and the PC so when the YAMAHA 02R came out we began using digital only tools. (Digidesign) and also stuff like FOSTEX for a digital multi.

In the 90s, sampling (PCM) became more mainstream with the advancements in gaming machines so now we had to simulate the sound for FM + PSG + PCM and convert that to a new datatype. Even during the opening track or the demo mode some companies wanted PCM but in order to do that (and have it fit in memory) we had to down mix everything to fit and make some compromises to what we wanted.


PA: Could you describe the process of writing the music, for example, the early stages of planning to the finished product?

KASS: The first step was a meeting with the game producer, Miyaji-san and one of the directors (can’t remember his name) and talk about the number of music they needed and what the purpose or atmosphere/theme would be so that we knew the direction they were going. After that I would create a demo or sample music to send them for review and that would determine whether or not we’d move forward.

Normally, the sample music that was brought to the meeting was the opening or ending music that rep the main theme of the game, and some songs that rep the core theme of certain stage atmosphere (like the speed/tempo of playing) until this process, it would be only me and Aoshima-san. Sometimes the other staff wouldn’t even be hired by this point.

…after Alisia, and MD Silpheed, we started getting actual movies or demos of games to see how our songs would match the game. But for the Alisia it was all conceptual.

So again, we’d have a meeting, to understand the concept and decide on the direction and discuss variations. Once that was decided, then we’d hire staff to help and this is when we would begin writing more music to fill out the levels and gameplay. But during the process, I made sure each staff working on the tracks to bring me a sample so that we never deterred too far from the main ‘theme’ of the decided-on image.

After Mecano completed the music and sent in our final completed tracks. The process went to Game Arts staff (main Shimada) And he would convert our data/music to the YM2612 using a custom driver (written per game). That didn’t end our process tho, once the music was sequenced out for the MD sound chip, we had to hear it back to make sure that it sounded the way that it was intended and, if not, fix the data on our end and resubmission.

What Game Arts would ask us was to decrease the size of data so that it would fit in memory (RAM) with their driver.

PA: And what was your role in the Alisia Dragoon soundtrack?

KASS: I had kind of all the roles: [laughs] Music Producer, Composer, and Sound Engineer. And because I’m the head of Mecano Associates, I also have to deal with all the contracts and the meetings pretty much the whole process. So in one word. Everything.

PA: Are you still in contact with your colleagues from Mecano?

KASS: Mecano Associates is still a registered company but really nobody works there anymore. I use it now to manage my personal projects and that about it. I do keep in touch with Aoshima and one of the staff members that came later named Nishi-san that now works at Game Arts, but as far as i know nobody really keeps in touch. If necessary I know how to contact them.

We’d like to thank Kasatani-san for taking the time to answer our questions and help preserve Video Game Music history for years to come. Thanks! – Pixelated Audio

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