Dragon Ball is the 2nd best-selling manga of all time (230+ million volumes sold), and the anime is equally as decorated, given that it’s one of the most influential pieces of media that helped advocate the global appeal of Japanese animation. It was also the most popular series on Cartoon Network’s Toonami block in the late 90′s and early 2000′s, as any youth from that period will remember. Fast-forward 15 years, and it’s still a fixture in our media and culture, be it through newly released video games like “Battle Of Z” or the on-going “Dragon Ball Z Kai” TV series. Prior to all this however, Bruce Faulconer played an instrumental part in popularizing the original American dub thanks to his soundtrack contributions from 1997 to 2003. With the original series having ended over 10 years ago, his music has become a classic fixture of a legendary show, as well as having gone on to be released as CDs that have millions of plays on Youtube and Spotify. As fans of both the show and his music, I spent considerable time chasing an interview with the composer, and our persistence finally paid off when he got on the phone with me. If you haven’t already acquainted yourself with this timeless music and its maker, now’s your chance.
As someone who’s done a lot of soundtrack work over the years, could you give our readers some insight into what your professional background has entailed, and how you came to find yourself in this industry?
I’ve been making music all my life, having started when I was 10 years old and continuing through high school and college. While I was working on my graduate degrees in music composition, I started working as a teaching assistant, teaching freshman and sophomore music classes, and next becoming an assistant professor in music theory and composition. Then I was invited to be a composer in residence at Ohio State University, where my job was to write music. This was all while I was in my 20s.
How did all of that transition into you creating Faulcomer Productions?
I always was writing music for various things. Orchestras, chamber groups, etc. After having the Ohio State composer residency for 2 years, I got grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and Ohio Arts Council to write music. So all I did was write music, which was great. But I also wanted to write for TV and film, which is what I started doing afterwards, and that led to the creation of a production company. I basically turned my work into a business by giving myself a label and brand to work from, in the form of Faulconer Productions.
Your most notable project has been providing the score for a large part of the American dub of the Dragonball Z television series. Can you tell us a bit about how you ended up being recruited by Funimation to do that?
It was more of the same of what I’d been doing prior to that. I got a call asking me if I would be interested in writing music for the show. Just like that. Funimation had listened to a bunch of my music, and we talked for about a month or so and after about 30 days I got started with it.
What did a typical day look like for you back then? Did you have a particular way for going about composing music for the series?
All the work happened in my own studio. I watched the show and that became the inspiration. I worked in the old school way, by starting with a music manuscript. I felt like it was a strong way of expressing myself without leaning on any crutch that technology might offer. There’s an entire craft of scoring to a picture that I believe in, because I want the music to tell the story of the characters, the scene and mood, and the action in the picture. Good music underscore is meant to support what’s going on, instead of distracting.
Did you feel that working for a big company such as Funimation brought along some unwanted bureaucracy and red tape? Were there any downsides to it all?
Not really. There were a few people that I worked with one-on-one throughout it, such as the main producer. Occasionally some people helped him. Everyone brought a wish-list of what they were thinking about. As the seasons and characters changed, the music had to morph along with it. So there was always a collaboration of ideas of what the music would do in a general sense, though the specifics were always left up to me.
Were there any moments of difficulty when composing the Dragon Ball Z soundtrack, where your music was either rejected or negatively critiqued by Funimation or the show directors?
Not really. With enough pre-production and conversation you develop a sort of symbiotic thing going, were you know what’s going to happen because you’ve already discussed it. There was never a case where the director came back and said “Can you change the B flat to an A natural for the guitar riff that happens 10 minutes in?” The composer is supposed to be the expert in the musical area, and if you respect the director’s and producer’s vision, they’re going to back you.
One of the more interesting things about your DBZ soundtracks was how they hold their own when listened to outside the context of the show.
Thank you. Another aspect of good musical underscore is that unto itself it can be and should be music that carries its own story. That’s what I think when I’m writing, so that the musical still has certain visual imagery that it conjures up even without the video attached. I’m glad that people can hear that in it.
It’s been 10 years since Dragon Ball Z ended its run in 2003? How does it feel to still receive heavy association with a project that ended over a decade ago? Do you ever feel that people should let go of that, and focus on your newer projects?
I’m pleased that the music still has a life of its own and that it’s appreciated. It’s gratifying. I hope that my newer projects have the same reaction later on, and if they do merit the same kind of attention, then I take it as a compliment.
Although you’ve worked on a number of media projects over the past 10 years, it does seem like Dragon Ball was the most syndicated and watched, globally. Do you ever feel the need to score another equally popular series or film? There are undoubtedly a lot of successful anime shows that are being aired around the world.
I work with people who call upon me and ask me to work with them. So I’m always up to do it. My latest music work for “The Bystander Theory” movie was like that. They called me up and asked me to score their feature film. The script was very intriguing, and I couldn’t put it down. I read it in one sitting and thought it was really good.
Following the end of DBZ, Dragonball GT continued in America. Why didn’t you end up scoring that?
That was a complicated scenario that I don’t find much value in talking too much about. I’m always happy to compose for media, but there are certain stipulations for me to write music for things, since it’s how I make my living. In the tradition of composers over the centuries, it’s what I do both as an avocation and vocation. So it’s a joy for me to do, but I also make a living off of it.
Years after having scored the DBZ series, do you ever find yourself throwing on your CDs and listening to your own music? If so, what do you think of it in retrospect?
Sometimes I might pick it up. Not everyday though. The other day I played the music from “The Bystander Theory” for some friends who wanted to hear it, so in situations like that, it might happen.
Your music ended up being used in some DBZ video game adaptations, like “Legacy Of Goku 2”, by Atari, and a lot of handheld titles for Game Boy. They tend to more simplified versions of the TV soundtrack. Did you have any input on that?
That was a curious situation, because I felt like a lot of that video game music was a comped and re-perfomed version. But for some other titles, Atari used my theme as it was, and I liked that better. The main involvement I had in any of that was that I was the original composer of it. But the situation was that Atari approached Funimation and said they wanted to use it, and then Funimation would then take care of it for them.
Majority of the music that appears on the DB soundtracks are of the electronic music genre. Are you an electronic music fan, or was that just used for the sake of the soundtrack?
I started writing electronic music many years ago, on things like one of the first Moog synths. I used to use 2 and 4-track track tape recorders, and then was happily surprised when 8-tracks came out. But before that I used to record on a bunch of 2-tracks and mix it all down to a 2-channel. So I’d have all my loops and tape recorders running. Nowadays, you have it all on samplers and synths, but my roots go back to people back to Edgard Varèse and George Antheil, who were able to make music out of organized noise.
I’ve also seen a younger generation of do-it-yourself producers emerge, thanks to advances in recording technology. Do you think this has led to a betterment in the electronic music scene? Are there any downsides that you’ve observed?
Not really, other than there aren’t any more musical filters. Whilst that means that anyone can be creative, it’s harder to find the kind of music you want for media. For example, you might watch a series of movies that use different composers for each installment. There’s a lot of music on Youtube which might be entertainment for 10 minutes, but wouldn’t translate into a 2 hour movie soundtrack. But I still applaud the effort, because it’s self-expression and that’s good for everybody’s soul.
Moving on to some of your more recent work, can you tell me how did “The Bystanders Theory” soundtrack come about?
That was a call that resulted in work. For the Dragon Ball Z music, I might have had some competition out there for that job, but Funimation called me and I said “yes”, which solidified my position. It was same with “The Bystander Theory”. They knew of my past music, called me and said they wanted to work with me. They told me a bit about the movie, and then I came up with some musical concepts and they liked it.
It’s very string heavy album. How did you go about creating those sounds? Did you need to use digital patches for that?
It’s a different orchestration set from what I used in DBZ. It was more of a traditional orchestra that I was going for, with a richness of layers that would help impact the story by having a wide range of expression. I did turn to my samplers for that sound, but it’s always great to have your music played by a live orchestra, which I’ve done before. Then you can have 80 people realizing your vision, whilst you as a conductor can share in that. So when I use my samplers as an orchestra, I need to have the same mentality, since it’s not possible play everything you hear in one take. I have to compensate for all those performers, so it takes a long time to play a piece, and I can only replicate around 20-30 performers with that.
What are some of the biggest changes that you’ve made to your recording and producing setup in this new digital age?
I still have recording equipment and samplers, so nothing has been that revolutionary for me, other than the creation of a wide variety of new sound banks for the different samplers. I can’t think of anything that became the world’s greatest invention that replaced something else. If you go back a couple of decades to when samplers where first created, that was striking and revolutionary. You’d need tape machines before that. But there’s nothing in the past decade that has been as radical, other than possibly that being able to perform with people across the world using the Internet.
You once said that it took a year to get a season’s worth of music done for DBZ. Do you think that would be different for you today, given advances in music making technology? Or was that time purely based on musical creativity?
I think it’s a matter of creation and show production schedule. A season of TV goes that route, and in traditional television it goes that way, even today. It’s a creative process that takes that amount of time in order to respect the story that’s being told.
I’ve heard that you used a lot of Roland stuff on the DBZ soundtrack. Is your studio still heavy on Roland gear? Have you found a fancy for any other brand of synthesizer?
I have a variety of things, but it just happened that a lot of the Roland stuff was very impressive. I can think of a couple of things that were very noteworthy in that they were very innovative, like the Megasampler. You got more sample rate and voices that could be played in that. It was revolutionary, but even more so it was a perfection of an existing concept by having it be more efficient.
Did you handle the mixing and mastering duties for your work on the DBZ soundtrack?
Yes, often. With Dragon Ball Z, I had a lot of assistance with engineering and some mixing. I’d always be present to listen and provide guidance and approval. With “The Bystander Theory”, I did about 80% of the mixing, and had some assistance in mixing from my engineers.
Wrapping up, can you tell what projects you’re currently working on, and what we can expect from Faulconer Productions in the future?
I have a few things going on. One of them is called War And Honor, which is in pre-production. I also have a little anime called Ernor, which hasn’t come to fruition yet since new things can be a bit risky for producers, so we’re trying to find the right kind of set to pick it up. It’s a warm, charming anime with cute characters and a message of universal brotherhood that I like a lot. It’s about baby dinosaurs and mammals that exist in a pre-historic world, and they need to help each other to survive.
War and Honor is an action/adventure show, so I’m using a full orchestra for that. I’m currently working with the producers on it, since it’s in pre-production. So I know the script and story. It’s exciting to be a part of things during their inception in this way. With “The Bystander Theory”, they had already shot the movie and I read the script afterwards. Even with Dragon Ball Z, the animation and voice-overs had already been done 10 years earlier. But with War And Honor, I got to start in the middle of it, which is nice.