Composer Elik Álvarez Talks Yu-Gi-Oh! MusicJune 26, 2015 at 8:43 pm | Posted in 4Kids, English dubbed, Konami, Other Stuff, Yu-Gi-Oh! | 2 Comments
Tags: interview, music
Elik Álvarez, one of a team of composers who has written music for every Yu-Gi-Oh! anime series and film produced by 4Kids Entertainment and 4K Media, was interviewed live today on the Everything Geek Podcast. Álvarez and host Ruari Williamson spent 40 minutes talking about his decision to pursue music composition as a career, his favorite types of Yu-Gi-Oh! music, and even some juicy tidbits about the upcoming Yu-Gi-Oh! ARC-V series and 2016 Yu-Gi-Oh! movie. This post contains highlights from the show.
Originally from Venezuela, Elik Álvarez has been surrounded by music his entire life. His grandfather, who emigrated from Ukraine to Venezuela, embraced classical music and shared that love with Álvarez. Álvarez’s father gave him his first record, the Star Wars soundtrack by John Williams, which further fueled his interest in orchestral music.
“Many, many film composers of this era, we are heavily influenced by Williams,” said Álvarez. “He’s the maestro. […] He, in my opinion, has defined the career of many film composers working today. I had the opportunity to meet him probably a couple of times and had just a couple of quick chats. And I have to tell you, he’s just out of this world.”
Growing up, Álvarez studied piano for almost 10 years. And like so many young people with an interest in music often do, he joined a rock band. When he was 15 years old, Álvarez heard the theme song for The Simpsons TV show and thought it would be cool to do an arrangement of the song with his band. After that, he began perceiving film music with a more critical ear.
After graduating from Berklee College of Music, Álvarez moved to Los Angeles looking for work and was fortunate enough to land a job working on 4Kids’ Kirby: Right Back at Ya!, Ultraman Tiga, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. When Yu-Gi-Oh! The Movie was developed, Álvarez was invited to work on the project, which opened the door for him to then compose for the Classic Yu-Gi-Oh! TV series and all of its spin-offs.
Writing For Yu-Gi-Oh!
All of the Yu-Gi-Oh! series called for Elik Álvarez and the shows’ other composers to write very melodic pieces.
“[A] melody is going to stick in your mind for the rest of your life if you like [it],” explained Álvarez. “And it’s been fantastic writing for that show for that reason. We get to write big orchestration with big strong melodies.”
Because of the tremendous number of Yu-Gi-Oh! episodes and production time constraints, writing for all the series was a “huge, huge training for me,” said Álvarez of the composition process. “In every sense. In orchestration, melody writing, modulations, writing fast. It’s really tough. It’s not easy to do in such a short period of time.”
“We do original music for 10 to 12 episodes,” Álvarez explained. “Music is scored to picture, and this is just because of budget reasons and also practicality. Writing 20 minutes of music every day will kill you, so what we do is we write the music, and the music editors — great music editors, fantastic music editors — come to life and start re-editing the music. But after that, we also get to write when a new character comes, a new monster, […] we do that music as well.”
Over the years that Álvarez and the team of Yu-Gi-Oh! composers have worked with 4Kids and 4K Media’s producers, they have developed a strong sense of trust with one another. The producers extend a great amount a freedom to Yu-Gi-Oh!’s composers, even more so than many producers of other big-name projects that Álvarez has worked with.
“One particular very good thing about the series is that we never get any temp tracks,” said Álvarez, referring to the temporary filler music that editors, directors, and producers stick in when editing video footage to get a sense of how the scene will turn out. “So, I never hear any of the Japanese versions, and I never hear any other versions tried, like ‘Okay, this is what you should do.’ We just get plain visuals with dialogue and some sound effects and we need to create the music from scratch.
“And that’s fantastic because temp tracks are great for reference, but the problem is when you start copying temp tracks or making something similar, really it stops the originality of your work. So for this series, it’s all plain. ‘Here it is. Write your thing.'”
Álvarez has worked with all types of directors and producers, from those who rely strictly on temp tracks to those who offer him an extensive amount of freedom. He recognizes that ultimately, the strength and quality of the music rest on the shoulders of the composers.
“Your job as a composer, even if you get a temp track and they want to do something similar, still you’ve got to make sure you write something original,” said Álvarez. “So that’s where really the skill comes. Because there are many amazing composers out there. It’s a matter of figuring out if somebody’s trying to put you in a box, how can you make that box great? If it’s a little box, how can you make sure that while you’re writing that little, little, little box, it still is going to be great and it’s going to sound original? That’s probably one of the biggest challenges that you get when being a film composer.”
Favorite Yu-Gi-Oh! Music
Elik Álvarez and the other Yu-Gi-Oh! composers have written such an immense amount of music under such tight deadlines. So when he was asked about his favorite pieces, it was challenging for him to point to specific ones.
“It’s a very tough question. Whatever I answer right now, it could be different maybe in a month or a year,” Álvarez joked.
“I wrote the opening sequence in the Yu-Gi-Oh! movie, the first one. That was very special,” said Álvarez.
“In ZEXAL, any scene that has Astral going on over there, even if it was a comedic one or an action one, I really enjoyed because we got to use choirs and voices,” Álvarez added. “I think there is one episode too which is called ‘Battle of Dragons’ that I really enjoyed doing. That’s a big choir piece.”
Álvarez related his love for his work on Yu-Gi-Oh! ZEXAL to the freedom that he was given while working on it.
“With Yu-Gi-Oh!, I know what [the producers] are expecting, I know what they want. Sometimes I try to push a little bit. ‘Ah, let me do something different.’ I know they may react to that and sometimes they don’t. The inclusion of choirs on ZEXAL and for Astral, they didn’t mention that. That’s something that I wrote. ‘Hey listen, how about we do ZEXAL with a little chant under [Astral]?’ And they loved it. They may as well have said, ‘We don’t like that. Do something different.’ That’s the way it goes.”
Álvarez also expressed his enjoyment doing the rock-based score for Yu-Gi-Oh! GX, which he worked on with his then guitar-playing writing partner Freddy Sheinfeld, as well as the more sophisticated scores of 5D’s.
“We got the chance to do something a little bit different, especially with GX and 5D’s,” he said. “Sometimes, that’s not quite easy to do because this is a franchise and [viewers] are used to listening to certain styles of music, so we get a lot of reactions for those two for that particular reason. Because it’s different. 5D’s we got darker, and GX was mainly rock.”
Looking Forward: Yu-Gi-Oh! ARC-V and the 2016 Movie
Elik Álvarez last worked on the music for Yu-Gi-Oh! ARC-V in September 2014. He is ecstatic about the series and knows that fans will be too when it comes out. (And before anyone asks, no, he does not know when it will premiere in the U.S. Only 4K Media’s brass know.)
“That show I really like. Really, really like it. It’s very, very strong,” he said. “I like the story and the plot that’s going on over there. For that one, we were writing so much as well. What can I tell you? There are many great action cues.
“In this particular [series], I really like the action scenes. They are big, they are epic, they are huge, they are strong. There are a few scenes where you see buildings falling down and things like that that did require writing some big, big music.”
This week, Álvarez just finished the trailer for the upcoming 2016 Yu-Gi-Oh! movie. Having only done the music for the trailer, he doesn’t know exact details about the movie. However, Álvarez noted that the trailer will premiere at San Diego Comic Con.
As for the movie itself, “We should start working on music for the movie probably [in] September, October. We don’t know, I can’t say anything,” explained Álvarez. “That project with Yu-Gi-Oh! is coming. I don’t know any details about the movie, if it’s going to be a big release, if it’s going to be a limited release, but I think we’re pretty excited about this one.
“I don’t want to reveal any details for what I saw in the trailer, but I think a lot of fans are going to be happy about it.”