Wataru’s Scoring Session at Sony

I’ve written several times about my friend Wataru Hokoyama, a composer whom I’ve known since our days together in undergrad. Wataru is an absolutely incredible orchestrator, and he helped me a great deal with my revisions to both “Turning” and “Turbine.” Wataru has several excellent cinematic band pieces (check out “Spiritual Planet“), but what will someday make him the wealthiest CIM graduate ever is his skill at writing for film.

Wataru’s biggest gig yet is the score for the upcoming PlayStation 3 video game, “Afrika.” In a real coup, Wataru somehow convinced the executives at Sony Japan that 1) Wataru should write the score for this game, 2) Wataru would orchestrate it himself, 3) the music would be recorded with live musicians, not synths, 4) Wataru would conduct the session, and 5) it would be the first PlayStation game with a live soundtrack recorded in the United States. The session was this morning at the Sony Scoring Stage — now called the Barbra Streisand Scoring Stage.

This is where John Williams records his scores. In fact, the majority of the players in the orchestra are the same players Williams uses. (The first horn player was first horn on the Jurassic Park soundtrack, as just one example.) For a guy who has dreamed of writing for the best Hollywood orchestra — and recording it in the Sony Scoring Stage — this was a pretty heady morning. No wonder that Wataru looks a little scared.

Who could blame him? There were executives from Sony Japan, flown in just for the session. There was a camera crew. He was about to conduct a 106-piece orchestra of the best studio players in LA. Wataru studied privately with Alan Gilbert, the recently-appointed Music Director of the New York Philharmonic, so the conducting may not have been his biggest concern, but still, I’d be scared to death.

Somehow, before he even took the podium, he relaxed. (Maybe it was the close proximity to the harp. It’s hard to be too stressed when you’re next to a harp.)

Here, Wataru greets the orchestra and tells them what an honor it was to write for — and conduct — them. I think they appreciated his sincerity — and his excitement.

Then they read through his first cue. It was stunning, and to say they nailed it would be an understatement on par with me saying “I kind of like food and boobs.” The enthusiasm after the last note was electric, with the orchestra bursting into spontaneous applause for Wataru — as Wataru literally jumped up and down for joy. Even the Sony executives seemed pleased, likely thinking that perhaps the incredible expense of recording these cues live just might be worth the cost after all.

There were a lot of cues to get through during the eight-hour session…

… and as you can see from the violin part, they weren’t exactly easy. What’s miraculous is that the orchestra would play everything perfectly, including precise dynamics and articulations, and at full tempo from their first reading.

Here, Wataru steps into the booth to check the playback. He’s surrounded by Sony executives and, on the far left, the concertmaster.

The number of people with very specialized jobs was pretty impressive. Here is the station for the in-session librarian, always ready in case a part needs to be revised or re-printed.

And this guy’s job is to run the click track. The entire score is recorded to a click track — really just a computerized metronome to keep the music synced with the picture. That click is fed through headphones that the conductor wears. (The headphones also have a live mix of the orchestra.) Sometimes, though, Wataru would decide that a ritard was too mechanical when conducted from the click, so this guy would follow Wataru’s instructions on the fly about where to drop the click and where to bring it back. It may not seem like it, but this is a very busy job.

There are monitors all over the place. Some are showing the picture for the film (or in this case, the game), and some just show the click (with a live feed of the conductor in the corner). It all felt very… expensive.

And here is the coolest instrument in the world: a contrabass trombone — live, and in the wild. It’s on the right. That tiny thing next to it is a tenor trombone. Don’t be fooled into thinking this is a trick of perspective; the contrabass trombone is probably 2 feet larger than the tenor. This is an instrument that you’ll only ever really hear in film scores. Must be nice to have the option…

Here it is from another angle.

Wataru hit a home run with this score. It’s exciting, it matches the video of the game, and good lord, he orchestrated the hell out of it. I am completely in awe of his orchestration skill. It was perfect. There was no adjusting dynamics or scoring to fix balance problems. When played by first-rate players, Wataru’s music just sounds right. Congratulations, Wataru!


Gus Greely says

That's awesome that Waturu got Sony to spring for Sandy DeCrescent's A-list guys (100 of them, no less). Listening to them in person is indeed frightening because it's the first take and, guess what, it sounds like a movie. Having gotten to "test drive" that orchestra at the ASCAP film scoring workshop thing, I have to say I didn't find it intimidating once it got going. It's like driving a Porsche (though I admit I have never driven a Porsche).

Now I need to make a friend with a PS3.

Cathy says

All that and no food or alcohol? LOL

All joking aside, though - this must have been an amazing experience. Makes me a little sad that I only teach high school third band.... sigh

Kevin Howlett says

Do you see it likely that the soundtrack to this game will be released separately? I would love to check out the music--anything that you speak about with so much enthusiasm I've gotta check out, but I don't really plan on getting a PS3, at least not yet.

Travis Taylor says



David says

Just so you know, it was like the John Mackey weekend at Grand Nationals in Indianapolis. Every year has its trend, and "Turbine" was one of them this year.

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