Creator of The Music Square, and contributor to Tokyo Digital Crew, Fabian Measures (Fogheart) sets a great example of a prolific composer as well as active and enormously supportive member of the community. I had the opportunity to speak with the composer, from California to the UK, where he shared his thoughts about the key role of emotion in music, inopportune inspiration, and composing with a target.
How did your career in music start? What first got you interested in music?
Fabian: The first thing that got me into music was games, really. I used to play a lot of Play Station games, back in the day, the old Play Station 1. Games like Digimon, Wipeout, stuff like that. And then I sort of stumbled upon games like Final Fantasy, where the score is really detailed. That’s where it all began, really. I had this love for playing the Final Fantasy games in particular. I’d hunt down these games for music, just because it was so good. And that was like, at the age of 7.
Oh, wow. Do you play any instruments?
Fabian: Yeah, I play guitar. I can play bass as well, and a little bit of drums. I’d say keys, but… Nah. Just no.
(laughs) Okay. What was your very first composition? And what inspired you to write music for the very first time?
Fabian: The first thing I ever did was at college, where I studied music technology. My whole class had been given a week off, but I decided to go and use the software and equipment. I remember having this sound in my head, and it was like… The only way I could describe it is “stadium atmosphere”. It was all guitar with a midi drum kit. It was this epic sort of reverb-y sound… You just close your eyes and imagine this stadium, and a band on the stage. It actually turned out really well. Ever since, when I’ve tried to replicate that sound I’ve not actually managed it, which is a shame because I don’t have the track anymore.
Aw, that’s too bad. So what or who are some of your main influences, either other musicians or other aspects of your life?
Fabian: Well, there’s the obvious ones, Nobuo Uematsu, Yoko Shimomura, Masashi Hamauzu. But actually Joe Hisaishi is a major influence, music-wise.
Me too! 🙂
Fabian: His music is so cool, it’s so emotional. That’s one of my things, I try to make emotions in my music, so that when someone hears it, they think of these emotions, and feel them. I think he does that exceptionally well. The first time I heard his stuff was in Spirited Away. It was just amazing, the scenery with the music… Also Hans Zimmer, because he’s just cool. His stuff is awesome. I quite liked his Inception soundtrack, and Man of Steel.
Fabian: I didn’t. That was actually a well-known YouTuber in Japan, it’s like a network, they call themselves J-Vloggers. It’s really awesome. It’s a guy called Hiko Saemon who started the Tokyo Digital Crew. We do things for film makers, video makers, games, all kinds of things. We’re quite an eclectic group of composers. That’s a recent project.
The Music Square is the one that I created. I started it because I was listening to people’s music, and I was like, this sound really good, and I’ve not really been exposed to sort of indie composers. I’d only heard of John Williams, Hans Zimmer… And so I wanted a place where I could listen to this stuff, the original stuff, cause there’s a lot of covers going around. There are some amazing covers, but I wanted to hear original stuff, and I couldn’t find a group for it anywhere, so I thought why not make a group? That’s sort of how that came about. I really love giving feedback as well. It was even better then, I could hear these tracks people submit, and I can say “Oh that sounds really good, it would sound awesome in an RPG in a cave, etc.” And I really enjoy that—it’s an interaction. I wanted to build up a group of people who interact and give feedback and help each other.
Yeah, that’s great! So in your opinion, what are some of the main differences between video game soundtracks and other kinds of music?
Fabian: One of the biggest differences is that video game soundtracks tend to vary in length, but all the time the composer has to think about it looping possibly forever. If someone sat there, just trying to work something out, a puzzle or whatever, this track’s gonna be looping and looping and looping… It’s got to not be boring. That is one of the biggest differences between game music, and say film music. It’s got to be able to loop quite well, unless it’s for a cutscene.
Another aspect is that game music leaves a lot of space. Rather than pop music, which is sort of full, with vocals in the middle, and things going on left, right, and center. Game music can have that obviously, like things left and right, and different stuff going on. But you tend to find that game tracks have a lot of space in the middle, and unless you really focus on it, you don’t notice how it is. And it really makes it ambient—you could play game music over a sound system in a mall, and it would fit because of how background-y it is.
Yeah, that’s interesting. Okay, so what was the first video game soundtrack you ever wrote?
Fabian: I’ve worked on a couple of projects, but they never got off the ground—they were always in the production stage, and never really got any further. There was one called Aelrach—they have a bizarre spelling. But that was the project that anybody ever asked me to do. Before I did this project, all my stuff was like, I just do it because it sounded good, or I was trying for an emotion. And this was really the first thing I did where I had a target. They were asking me, “We want this. We have a volcano cave, we want you to make it sound immersive.” and all that sort of thing. So it was the first thing I worked where I had a spec, and that was amazing. When I first started that, it did wonders for my compositions. It was like a breakthrough, actually having a goal and purpose brought a lot of thought and ideas.
Okay, yeah. How did you get that position?
Fabian: Just having my stuff on soundcloud. Everybody can hear it, it’s all free to download. I guess they must’ve been looking on soundcloud, and sent me a message, and it just went from there.
Okay, cool. So do you have any activities or routines that help inspire your music, especially when you get stuck?
Fabian: I’d like to say watching anime, but I don’t really get the chance to watch anime much… Not really, no. I tend to… Now this is the annoying thing. I always get a track in my head, like an idea, when I’m lying there, about to go to sleep. Lights are off, and then suddenly this beat starts in my head, or this melody… And the worst thing is, you know, because I’m married, I can’t just get up and go downstairs and start playing music, because obviously that will wake people up. So it’s like “Ahh I need to get this idea down, but I’ve nowhere to put it!” And because I don’t write music, as in musical notation, that makes it even harder.
Oh. You just sing it into your phone really quietly? (laughs)
Fabian: Yeah, I could try… I’ve actually got some software on my phone that I use a lot now, like iMachine. It’s really nice that I can do it on that. Quite often I do that now—I get an idea halfway through the day… “Hang on, I need to get this idea down.” My wife’s like “Come on, we’re shopping!” or something like that, you know.
(laughs) That’s funny. So what programs and equipment do you use to make your music?
Fabian: I use iMachine on my iPhone. I use a lot of app-based stuff recently. iMachine and Garageband mostly. You can take music out of iMachine and put it into Garageband. Garageband is a bit more complicated—you can have multiple tracks going at once, whereas in iMachine you can only have four. And there’s better effects and stuff in Garageband. So it’s really good to just jot an idea down in iMachine, and then export it into Garageband, and play with it that way.
I use a lot of software on my laptop as well, which is where most of my older stuff came from. I use Cubase 5, which is ancient now, I need an upgrade! I use some software called Komplete, which is by a company called Native Instruments. They do sampling software, so they’ll go and record all the different aspects of violin, say, or a full string orchestra, and all that sort of stuff, and make it so that it’s like a playable instrument. I use a lot of that stuff. Komplete 9 is what I use, and it’s like all their complete works. They’re on number 10 now, so I’m missing a bit. But that’s main go to really.
Okay, awesome! So which composition of yours are you most proud of, and why?
Fabian: Oh… There was one I did… Every year I try to do a track for the Hanami, the cherry blossom season in Japan, it’s a beautiful time. There’s this one track I did called “Life Cycle”, which is the latest Hanami track I did. I was really pleased with how it turned out. It was everything that the previous years’ tracks were, but it was just… Better. It was kind of a style that I haven’t worked with before. So I was really pleased with that.
There is another track I could think of that was inspired by a picture that a YouTuber took, of a place in Japan. I asked if I could take this picture and use it to compose, and the photographer said yeah sure, go ahead. The place is called Sabae—it was a picture of a bridge, with a town on one side, and the sun rise in the background, but it was really hazy. So I composed this track to that, which turned out really well. That’s probably one of my best-received tracks, actually.
Okay, great. So what is one of your main goals or aspirations as a composer?
Fabian: To be honest, I don’t really have that big of a goal. I just want people to use my music, and enjoy it. I think I’d be pretty unhappy if I didn’t compose. So I guess my goal really is just to be able to continue composing throughout my life. I hope nothing ever stops me. That’s probably the main thing.
All right, I have a list of rapid-fire questions now, I don’t know if you’ve read my other interviews. (laughs) Give short answers as quickly as possible! You ready?
Fabian: Oh yes, the rapid fire questions. Let’s go!
Favorite video game protagonist!
Favorite video game series!
Fabian: I’m gonna say Final Fantasy.
Favorite dungeon in any video game!
Fabian: (laughs) The Water Temple, from Ocarina of Time!
Oh, nice. Favorite battle theme!
Fabian: Man With a Machine Gun, from FFVIII
Okay, favorite character theme!
Fabian: I’m gonna say Yuna, from FFX!
All right, favorite menu music!
Fabian: Ah… So many… FFIX!
If you could befriend any video game antagonist, who would you choose?
Fabian: Antagonist… Very hard… I’m gonna say Ganondorf, from Legend of Zelda, just cause he’s dark but he’s so cool!
Definitely. If you could make a weapon out of any instrument, which instrument would you choose?
Fabian: I’m gonna say guitar, just cause that’s what I play.
All right, cool! End of rapid-fire questions!
Okay, so what are some of your future plans? What are you working on right now?
Fabian: I’m currently working on a piece in the Tokyo Digital Crew. We’re doing a bit of a collaboration. One of the members is getting some vocals for a track that I’ve just finished writing. So that’s the main one at the moment. And also I’ve just started a project in 5/4 time signature.
Fabian: Which I’ve never done before. It’s kind of exciting, it’s going really well. I’m hoping I can pull it off without throwing it away in the end.
Yeah, different time signatures are definitely very interesting. All right well those are all the questions I have! Do you have any final thoughts?
Fabian: Music is life. That’s about it. Without music, I don’t know… I would be quite bored of life. (laughs)
(laughs) Yeah. Cool, thank you so much!
Check out Fabian (Fogheart)’s music on soundcloud.
Supplementary photos by The Lausy Collective.