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Interview with Arnie Roth on Distant Worlds and the Music of Final Fantasy

August 25, 2014 Written by Joseph Jackmovich

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For a man that’s just flown halfway around the world, Arnie Roth is in excellent spirits.

The 61-year-old conductor, composer and Grammy-award winner has made a life out of travelling for his music career. A Chicago native, Roth is back in his hometown to prepare for Distant Worlds, a worldwide concert series dedicated to the music of Final Fantasy.

In existence since 2007 and drawn from earlier Final Fantasy concert experiences, Distant Worlds has been traveling the globe, bringing to life some of the iconic music from the series. While Roth heads a lot of day-to-day production with the concert series he works closely with Nobuo Uematsu, the famed creator of much of the Final Fantasy music fans know and love today.

“I first met him [Uematsu] in 2005 at a concert in February,” Roth said. “And we immediately hit it off. It was the weirdest situation of him being into the same background musically that I was into.”

Roth said that the reason Final Fantasy music remains so iconic is due in large part to Uematsu’s writing style when composing. He said that Uematsu’s usage of individual themes for characters, battles and locations kept certain melodies in the minds of gamers throughout the role-playing experience, connecting them with the story and music simultaneously.

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It’s for that reason that Roth finds the Final Fantasy franchise so different than other franchises when it comes to music. He said that the experience of a role-playing game and Uematsu’s writing style has created a franchise so rich in music that it can offer full and varied concerts while other franchises cannot.

“I don’t think you can do full concerts of Halo or World of Warcraft,” Roth said.

That musical depth and variety is what keeps the Distant Worlds concert series going strong after seven years of concerts. With each year new pieces and features are added, keeping the concert a fresh experience from one year to the next.

Roth has even gone so far as to stage two performances of Distant Worlds on the same day with completely different programs. He plans to do another dual performance in New York City Jan. 31. On that date Rikki, the original voice talent for Suteki Da Ne from Final Fantasy X, will be present to perform.

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“In reality you could play music from Final Fantasy seven days a week and not repeat a single piece,” Roth said.

Venues can change what pieces are selected, Roth said. For example, concerts in Europe select heavily from PlayStation-era Final Fantasy titles as releases for earlier titles were not as available for gamers.

Despite the massive appeal of the music and the large library of available pieces to choose from Roth says that fans are almost universally positive about the concert series. He said that besides requests for songs the only negative messages he receives are people asking why a certain piece wasn’t selected. Even so he said that a number of those messages include sentiments that acknowledge if their choice was selected that another would have to be removed.

“That’s one of the fascinating things about this fanbase,” Roth said. “We almost get no negative feedback. These are unbelievable fans.”

Along with the continued series of the main Distant Worlds concerts Roth has also began a new series with help from his son Eric Roth. The new series, entitled A New World: Intimate Music from Final Fantasy. These concerts Roth said are meant for about a dozen performers and smaller audience sizes to keep fans more intimately connected with the music. Roth added that Uematsu has been very receptive to this idea and has expressed a great deal of interest in doing more performances with these smaller venues.

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When asked if the music from Final Fantasy would ever fall silent Roth said that he has no intention of ending any of his musical projects. He said that the concert, while touching many countries around the world, still has many places left to visit. And with each year bringing new pieces and old favorites he said that Distant Worlds has a place in the music world for some time to come.

Distant Worlds has made a really big footprint in the world,” Roth said. “We’re not ready to shut it down.”


Make sure to check back in the coming days for our interview with legendary Final Fantasy music composer, Nobuo Uematsu.