Game Music Festival 2013
Zack Parrish
Valdis Story: Abyssal City
Melancholy FF Albums
Kan Gao
To The Moon, A Bird Story
Featured Album Reviews:
Kentucky Route Zero
Act I
Kentucky Route Zero
Act II
A Bard's Side Quest
Vocal Arrangements

Kan Gao: To The Moon And Beyond
By Mike Salbato, with contributions from Andrew Barker, Luna Lee, and John Tucker
To The Moon
RPGFan: What was your creative process like for composing the music of To The Moon? Which had a larger influence: the music on the story/graphics, or the story/graphics on the music?
Kan: I think the story and picturing the scenes helped to define the rough idea and structure for the music, and the music in turn helped to refine some of the details in the individual scenes, such as dialogues. Writing the background music sure saved me from a ton of writer's blocks.
RPGFan: For any aspiring composers reading, what tools do you use to compose/arrange?
Kan: I almost use Finale (2011) exclusively to write and produce; the latter would probably be much better done on an actual DAW, so it's kind of a terrible example, heheh. I do use Sonar (7) to refine some of the tracks, though, and I'm beginning to try to make more use of it. For sound library, it's mostly a mix of EWQL libraries and Garritan Personal Orchestra.
RPGFan: Do you have a favorite instrument to play or use in compositions?
Kan: I love the sound of a flowing cello; that and erhu are tied for my favourite string instruments, and are definitely up there for all instruments as well. As far as playing goes, I think I'd have to go with piano for the versatility when trying to compose and arrange.
RPGFan: What common (or uncommon!) sources of inspiration do you draw from when composing?
Kan: Writer's blocks do a nice job of that for some reason (for the actual story part of writing). I suppose it might be because when I hit a block in that aspect, I'd have saved up some momentum and ideas to translate into the music, so it's like having just woken up from a nap.
RPGFan: Are there any genres/styles of music that you have not used that you would like to try in the future?
Kan: Big band jazz/swing; classy stuff. Probably ain't got the talent for that, though!
RPGFan: If there were no obstacles in your way, what would be your "dream collaboration" job (working with other composers or musicians)? They could be living or dead, related to game music or not related.
Kan: Eric Whitacre's definitely one! I've always tended to work in a lone wolf manner, so I have no clue what I'd do in such a collaboration, hahah; but his stuff just seem so fun and intriguing to work on.
RPGFan: This may be a common question, but when we're a fan of someone's work, we usually like to know what they're fans of. So what are some of your favorite songs, composers, or games?
Kan: As far as favourite composers go, Joe Hisaishi, Thomas Newman, and Alan Silvestri are definitely up there for me in mainstream. Closer to home, Laura Shigihara's work's been an inspiration, as well as many of the fellow composers in the indie scene — there has been some really nifty stuff going on there over the past few years!
RPGFan: What's the most satisfying part of being a composer, for you?
Kan: For me, it's being able to communicate in some way even when I can't find the right words; and some things out there really just can't be communicated verbally.
RPGFan: Have you had any particularly noteworthy experiences as a result of your musical work? Feedback, life events, etc. The emotional impact of To The Moon's story plus its music have certainly moved many people (many of us included).
Kan: Kind messages from folks who have played the game have always been heartwarming, especially when it's something that made a personal difference. In the game, there's an underlying theme of a condition that one of the main characters has, and a certain structure of the theme song was made to reflect a part of that. Not too long ago, I received a wonderful email from someone who shares the same condition as the game's character; and not only did he understand that aspect of the music, but said that it encouraged him to start playing piano again after almost a decade of absence. I felt really happy that it could have such a positive impact on folks, and I'm grateful for that.
RPGFan: Have you been working on any musical concepts for the next episode of To The Moon, or are you just focused on A Bird Story for now?
Kan: It's kind of on the back burner; but since A Bird Story and the next episode are connected with the same main character, it's hard not to get ideas for it sometimes! The concept of the main theme for the next episode is actually already written. And I use the term "written" very loosely... it is literally a scale.
RPGFan: If you can talk about To The Moon episode 2, are you planning to take a similar musical approach to the first game, or are you considering a different direction?
Kan: Style-wise, it should be pretty similar; although where To the Moon's soundtrack has a bigger focus on the piano, cello and guitar will have more of a role in the next episode.
RPGFan: Do you have anything you want to say to fans/potential fans, or do you have any projects or links you'd like to share?
Kan: Mm, to the folks who enjoyed the game, I just wanted to say thank you for giving it your time and support; I truly appreciate it. There is actually a bit of a bonus content coming up this month (free, of course), so keep a lookout — I'll announce it on my Twitter (@Reives_Freebird) & Facebook page ( when the time comes. c:

And to the folks who have yet to give it a try but would like to, there's a demo on, though I'd rather you get it on Steam or whatnot to avoid being demo-interrupted — as with all my games, there's a no-questions-asked refund policy if it's not what you were looking for. It's all good!

As for project links to share, here are a couple of incoming games, both of which are intriguing in their own ways:

Rakuen — A game by Laura Shigihara about a boy's escape from hospital to the fantasy world of his favourite storybook:

Social Caterpillar — A game by Lannie Neely III about introversion and the process of stepping out of one's bubble:
Explore more: Read our To the Moon OST review

This RPGFan feature was made possible thanks to the fine folks at Loudr.

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