Keiji Kawamori is the synthesizer operator for the main Final Fantasy series and a member of the defunct rock band The Black Mages. Though little is known about his life, Noda learned to play bass guitar while growing up and gained experience using technology. In 1998, he and four others were employed as synthesizer operators at Square to bring the company's sounds into the PlayStation era. Unique from his colleagues in that his future roles were predetermined, Kawamori was given the enormous privilege of being the principle synthesizer operator for the Final Fantasy series. He initially implemented the four disc score to 1999's Final Fantasy VIII alone. Generally regarded as a technological improvement on Final Fantasy VII's score, Kawamori enhanced the realism and impact to Nobuo Uematsu's diverse pieces. He subsequently programmed the entirety of the score for the simultaneously developed Final Fantasy IX. Required to implement over 120 themes within a year, he also helped to establish the more traditional sound of the game.
For 2001's Final Fantasy X, Kawamori familiarised himself with the PlayStation 2 hardware. However, his role on the three composer soundtrack focused on implementing Uematsu's compositions while Takeharu Ishimoto and Ryo Yamazaki handled much of the rest. While working on this projects, Kawamori also established links with Tsuyoshi Sekito and Kenichiro Fukui at the Osaka branch of Square by playing bass guitar on 2001's All Star Pro-Wrestling II. He was subsequently asked by Uematsu, Sekito, and Fukui to become the bassist of the six-piece rock band The Black Mages. Though initially formulated to initially perform the live concert versions of arrangements featured in the album The Black Mages, the band went on to feature in the Dark Chronicle Premium Arrange, release a DVD of their first live concert, achieve further popular acclaim with their second album and concert, and entertain audiences overseas at Los Angeles' More Friends - Music from Final Fantasy concert. Kawamori found such experiences an entertaining relief from his days in the office.
Kawamori came to critical acclaim in 2003 with his work on Final Fantasy X-2 alongside Noriko Matsueda and Takahito Eguchi. Having upgraded his equipment and library, Kawamori was able to offer more realistic samples throughout the score and focused particularly on punctuating brass elements. He was also central for defining the score's upbeat and poppy sound. Reuniting with The Black Mages, Kawamori also had a variety of roles on 2005's popular film Final Fantasy VII Advent Children. Working as an assistant composer on the film, he complemented one of the film's most climactic action scenes by creating "The Chase on the Highway"; his electric guitar performance brought so much intensity and drama to the sequence. Relishing the opportunity to arrange for the first time as well, he collaborated with Tsuyoshi Sekito to create hard rock interpretations of "Those Who Fight" and "The Great Northern Cave". In smaller solo roles, he also created the brief cinematic track "Savior" and offered a new age interpretation of "Aerith's Theme" in "Water".
In Kawamori's most challenging work to date, he implemented the Final Fantasy XII's score throughout 2005. Hitoshi Sakimoto had created a texturally thick symphonic score for the game, with the expectation that it would be streamed, but the hardware limitations of the PlayStation 2 meant the score needed to be sequenced instead. Kawamori was required to massively downgrade instrumental samples so they utilised 2 MB of space as opposed to the original several GB, and extensively cut and arrange parts so that a maximum of around 25 channels were utilised instead of Sakimoto's preferred 160. Almost all of the hundred tracks featured in the soundtrack were recorded on samplers at Hitoshi Sakimoto's home studio; in order to attain a rich and often aggressive symphonic sound, Kawamori used Opcode's Vision sequencer, Samplitude 7.0, and GigaStudio in conjunction with numerous libraries, such as the Quantum Leap Symphonic Orchestra and Sonic Implants' Symphonic Strings Collection. While Sakimoto admitted that Kawamori's task was unreasonable, the final effort was still impressive.
Kawamori has also worked on several Final Fantasy scores for portable consoles. For Final Fantasy III's remake, he arranged Uematsu's compositions from the NES for the DS alongside Sekito. Most of the arrangements were conservative, but still tended to enhance the richness and impact of the original compositions. Kawamori subsequently revisited Ivalice by implementing minimalistic arranged versions of Final Fantasy XII's score for the DS' Final Fantasy XII: Revenant Wings. While Kawamori was relieved that he didn't have to personally arrange the music, he regretted that the memory and channel limitations of the DS resulted in an even greater drop in sound quality and musical complexity compared to the PlayStation 2 version. Later in the year, Kawamori reunited with Square Enix's first production team in order to implement Takeharu Ishimoto's score to the prequel Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII. He appreciated the greater audio capacity of the PSP compared to the DS on this project and was able to simultaneously implement sequenced and streamed music.
In 2007, Kawamori became a synthesizer operator for another valued series, Kingdom Hearts, having exclusively worked on the Final Fantasy series up to that point. He initially joined Hirosato Noda as the synthesizer operator of Kingdom Hearts II: Final Mix +. Despite the unique challenges of loading stage and battle music simultaneously in the Kingdom Hearts series, he ensured that the new versions of Kingdom Hearts: Chains of Memories' tracks and new compositions in Kingdom Hearts II: Final Mix were more technologically accomplished than previous Kingdom Hearts scores. He also helped to ensure that the DS' Kingdom Hearts: 358/2 Days and the PSP's Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep retained the quality of their main console counterparts despite the transition to portable consoles. In both scores, he programmed reprises and arrangements of past compositions with new themes. He also created a special arena arrangement of "Monstrous Monstro" for the latter's expanded version. Despite focusing on two series as a programmer, he has nevertheless offered bass performances to diverse scores such as The World Ends With You, Sigma Harmonics, and The 3rd Birthday.
In 2008, Kawamori was closely involved with The Black Mages' third album. On The Black Mages III ~Darkness and Starlight~, he reprised his role as a bassist and also arranged for the first time. His contribution, Final Fantasy IX's "The Grand Cross," featured a myriad of features that helped to bring other elements of the album together. In his final performance with the band, he offered live interpretations of the album's music at a special concert in Yokohoma Blitz during August 2008. The band disbanded shortly afterwards to his disappointment and, due to his continued Square Enix affiliations, he was unable to join its independent successor Earthbound Papas. A year later, Kawamori reunited with Tsuyoshi Sekito to create an expanded score for Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children Complete. He extended many of the rock-based tracks from the original score and even created a haunting new arrangement of "Anxious Heart". In line with his approach for the film, he also offered the aggressive bass-driven composition "2099" on the concept album Music for Art.
In 2009, Kawamori returned to the Final Fantasy series to implement the entire score for Final Fantasy XIII. Engaging in a new collaboration with Masashi Hamauzu, Kawamori elegantly blended orchestral, electronic, and vocal elements throughout to attain a mesmerising otherworldly sound. As the entire score was streamed, his responsibilities were distinct from other Final Fantasy productions; however, his technical responsibilities and communications were essential for the final product. Kawamori also made a series of guest contributions as a composer and arranger on Sengoku IXA, Lord of Vermilion Re:2, and Dissidia 012: Final Fantasy; on the latter, he focused on recreating the ambience of three of the series' dungeon themes, while also offering action-packed rock arrangements. His latest role as a synthesizer operator was Takeharu Ishimoto's Final Fantasy Type 0, where he maximised the potential of a range of rock and orchestral pieces on the PSP. Retaining close ties with Tetsuya Nomura's productions, it is expected that Kawamori will return to implement music for Final Fantasy XIII-2. He retains an impressive record as a synthesizer operator and wider musician alike.
© Biography by Chris Greening (September 2007). Last updated on December 11, 2011. Do not republish without formal permission.