One of the most popular MIDI creators of the Sonic community, John Weeks has been creating some of the best for awhile now. Visit his website at Espiokaos.com/.
Conducted by Andrew Paulson on Oct 12, 2006.
Sonic Scene: We're here for Sonic Scene's latest interview, this time with the Sonic Online Community's great MIDI composer, John Weeks. Thanks for taking the time for this interview!
John Weeks: My pleasure! I'm glad to be here for it.
Sonic Scene: For those visiting who don't yet know your history and great work in the Sonic community, perhaps you can give them some insight.
John Weeks: Ah, let's see... It all started nearly ten years ago when I began work on my first Sonic MIDI, IceCap Zone Act 2 from Sonic 3. From there, I've been sequencing hundreds of MIDI files of songs from various Sonic titles, and over the years spreading my work out across other SonicTeam games such as NiGHTS, Phantasy Star Online, and now Phantasy Star Universe.
Sonic Scene: Why did you first decide to turn actual game tunes and other tunes from their original form into MIDI? Have you always been interested in gaming music?
John Weeks: I guess it would be my interest in music in general that got me into it. Thinking back, I first got into game music back with the theme to Labyrinth Zone from Sonic 1. It was my favorite song from the game, and as I started learning how to play various instruments in school (I was in elementary school at the time), I began taking the song apart, teaching myself how to play it on different instruments.
Sonic Scene: When was it that you discovered the ability to create MIDI music and set off to make your own?
John Weeks: That would be back in 1997. I was messing around on a friend's computer when I happened to discover a MIDI sequencing program. I played around with it until I learned how to create MIDI files, and the rest is, well, history.
Sonic Scene: When did you first become a Sonic the Hedgehog fan and what brought you to love this blue hog with a 'tude?
John Weeks: I think it was back in early 1992 or so when I first played a Sonic title. It was the speed of the game that pulled me in, and of course the music caught my attention as well.
Sonic Scene: What is it that makes Sonic music known as some of the best original gaming music around?
John Weeks: I'd have to say its catchiness. The tunes from most Sonic games, especially the early ones, have always stuck with me and many people I know even after all these years because of how catchy and memorable they are. I guess one way to look at it is that if a composer is able to make a song like Green Hill Zone where after 15 years people are still like, "Hey, I know that one!" then they're definitely doing something right.
Sonic Scene: What are your feelings on the last 5 years Sonic games and the music involved with them? Do you see a huge improvement coming with Sonic the Hedgehog 06 in the music and gameplay area?
John Weeks: Hmm... A lot of the music from the past five years of Sonic has been great. But, I have to admit there are some songs that just didn't grab my attention like I thought they should. As far as the music for the new Sonic, the style that I've heard so far is nice, but not exactly what I was expecting. I do enjoy it, however, and think it'll definitely make for a good change of pace. As far as the gameplay goes, I hope that this new game turns out to be an incredible piece of work that gets the series going again. A lot of people have been complaining about how the Sonic games seem to be going downhill in gameplay, and I can understand how they feel.
Sonic Scene: Which Sonic game do you feel has the best overall music of any game out there in the series? Is there a title out that that makes you feel the need to turning the volume down as well?
John Weeks: I've been asked that many times over the years, and I think my answer changes each time! Heh heh! But, at the moment, I think I'd have to go with Sonic 3. Though, many of Sonic Adventure 2's themes still are way up there on my list, so... Eh, this can be a difficult one to answer, I guess.
As far as games that make me want to turn the volume down, the only one I can think of that had music that I really didn't like was Sonic Shuffle. Some of the songs were great, but others were just... too random, I guess, and didn't seem to follow much of a beat or pattern. That made it difficult for me to enjoy those songs as much as the others.
Sonic Scene: What is it about Sonic Team games that most draw you in? Most Sonic fans seem to love most Sonic Team games.
John Weeks: I think it's the creativity and originality behind some of them. Take NiGHTS for example. It's an incredibly unique title that, in the opinion of many people, has never been surpassed. ChuChu Rocket! is another good example. It's a simple puzzle game at heart, but with a strange twist that made it ridiculously addictive. Well, for me, at least! And then there's Phantasy Star Online. There are quite a few network RPGs out there now, but the mixture of sci-fi with fantasy elements was just right to pull me in. And now with Phantasy Star Universe coming soon... Well, I can say that I'll be busy playing that one for quite some time!
Sonic Scene: What are the different steps of making a MIDI? How long does a average MIDI usually take to make and what are the processes?
John Weeks: The basic progress I make with each MIDI starts off with me listening to a recording of the original song over and over again. As I listen, I try to pull apart each section from the others; I want to hear the bass away from the melody, the drums from the background rhythm, the melody from the harmony, etc. From there, I choose a section to start with. Generally, it's best to start off with the drums just to get a good beat going that I can work with. Then I'll move on to sequencing the other sections of the song. Sometimes I'll start with the background sections, other times the melody and harmony. I guess where I start just depends on how I feel at the time.
As for the time it takes to sequence a MIDI, it can take anywhere from a few hours to a few years! That all depends on how difficult the song I'm sequencing is as well as how much, or how little free time I have to work with.
Sonic Scene: What were the toughest music to turn to MIDI form and your favorite songs you've done?
John Weeks: "White Jungle" and "Boss #6" from Sonic Adventure 2 were a little difficult to sequence, but mainly due to the limitations of General MIDI. Now that I've started to get into XG MIDI, I should go back over those and touch them us so they'll sound better; more like the original songs. The pan pipe melody of "Metallic Madness 'G' mix" from the Mega-CD version of Sonic CD proved difficult, too. That one took me a while before I was happy with my work.
My favorites... I'm still pretty impressed with how my MIDIs of "Dilpaidated Way" and "Snowy Mountain" from Sonic Adventure turned out. Oh, and "Menu Screen #2" from Sonic Mega Collection. That's one of my more recent MIDIs that I was able to make sound pretty close to the original song.
Sonic Scene: What is your advice on anyone who is thinking of getting into MIDI music and what should they look out for?
John Weeks: The best thing I can say would be to not get yourself in over your head. Start off small, work with easier songs until you get the hang of sequencing. From there, just work your way up. If you try to jump in on larger projects, you're likely to overwhelm yourself and want to give up due to how frustrating it can be. Sequencing can be an incredibly fun hobby, just as long as you don't try to force yourself past your own abilities. That's where practice comes in. After a while, you'll notice yourself improving with each sequence you complete.
Sonic Scene: Thanks a lot for taking the time for this great interview, hope you join Sonic Scene again for another one!
John Weeks: No problem. And thank you. It's been my pleasure! I'll be looking forward to future interviews.