Pac-Man Jam 25th Anniversary Limited Edition

Review & Interview with Manabu Nagaoka of the Greeting Cats by Jonathan Imberi 

As most of you already know I love Pac-Man, and even though this is a year old it somehow slipped in under my Pac-Radar. In honor of Pac-Man's 25th Birthday the folks at Greeting Cats, in conjunction with Namco, created three songs and a music video just for our dot-chomping hero!


    

Being the Pac-Man fanatic that I am I immediately contacted Manabu Nagaoka, one of the Cats, and requested a chance to view the video which, by the way, is not open for public viewing. I of course wanted to be one of the select few that actually got to see the video, but not wanting to leave out my friends at RetroBlast I decided to write a mini review and interview one of the creators. So here is your inside look at the Pac-Man Jam 25th Anniversary Limited Edition.

The "Pac-Man Jam" track is absolutely the coolest tribute song to Pac-Man I have ever heard. It is definitely one of those songs that gets stuck in your head all day. The lyrics pay homage to Pac-Man and make sure the listener is aware that "Pac-Man Is Back, Man" so "Let's Show Some Love To Pac-Man!" The corresponding video is a very energetic piece that reminds me of so many of the video stylings from the late seventies / early eighties (think some where between "Sesame Street Pinball Number Count" and "Max Headroom"). They did a wonderful job of making the video appear right at home with graphics and animations characteristic of the "Golden Age" of video games. 

"Pac-Man Industries", the second track, is a much more somber piece and subtly blends in sound clips from Pac-Man in a way that keeps the listener aware that there is an overall Pac-Man theme, but it's not the usual repetitive sound clip mixing that is so common in Pac-Man mixes or remixes. There are no lyrics to this track.

The third track "Pac-Man Mission", also without lyrics, is very upbeat and although it is similar to many of the mixes already out there it has a very distinctive edge to it. Think Secret Agent meets Pac-Man. I love the organ sounding effects towards the end of the track and the intriguing way the artist used the various sounds of Pac-Man throughout.

         

For those of us that are not aware of Pac-Man Jam 25th Anniversary Limited Edition & the related Pac-Man music tracks, can you tell us about them?

Manabu: Coinciding with the 25th anniversary of Pac-Man in America, NAMCO BANDAI Games, Inc. and Greeting Cats, started a project to produce a series of music tracks using the sound elements from the Pac-Man game.

The first of the series, “Pac-Man Jam 25th Anniversary Limited Edition” was created by Ben Jones of Paper Rad. Pac-Man Jam is Jones' first solo recording. The second release entitled "Pac-Man Industries" was created by Stuart Argabright. The third installment entitled "Pac-Man Mission" was created by Paul Geluso.

How did you get started with this project?

Manabu: Several years ago, we did a music video for a Japanese pop idol called Judy and Mary, with Todd Lincoln, one of the best directors out there. In it, we featured a Pac-Man game and other NAMCO games. Then, in September of 2004, NAMCO called us and said they are coming to New York.

So we met in Korean town in Manhattan, ate Korean dishes, and went to chill at one of the cool Korean cafes there. We were just talking and then we learned that Pac-Man was going to be 25 years old, in 2005.

We exchanged some ideas and figured that it would be kind of cool if we could make a series of Pac-Man songs. Back in the 80's, there was a hit song called Pac-Man Fever. So, they convinced us that this could become one of those amazing hit songs out of nowhere.

We called up a friend who produces music, Stuart Argabright. We talked and he told us about this new scene in arts where young kids hacked old Nintendo games and made videos and songs out of them.

We met with Cory Arcangel at Dietch Gallery where he had the showing of Super Mario Movie. It was a collaboration with Paper Rad. Then, one thing led to another, and we met Ben Jones of Paper Rad.

The rest is history.

Could you tell us a little about yourself (and a little about each artist that worked on the project)?

Manabu: I have been working in vast areas of entertainment industry for over 15 years. Currently, I serve as the producer for Sesame Workshop to produce and manage their international co-production of Sesame Street in Japan. I play essential roles in bringing educators, animators, and television program creators together from Japan and the U.S., and coordinates publicity, outreach and other branding activities around Sesame Street brand.

I also keep a position as a supervising producer at K&L Advertising, a Young & Rubicam/WPP company for their multi-ethnic commercials in over 16 language markets.

I produced a feature film, "UR4 Given" by Cinque Lee, a younger brother of Spike Lee, which premiered at Urban World Film Festival in August 04 and has screened in many other international film festivals.

Other past works that I was involved with in different capacities include a 5 hour omnibus film, "Momentous Events: Russia in the 90s," by Jean-luc Godard, Ken Russell, Werner Herzog, Lina Wertmullar and Nobuhiko Ohbayashi, an animated feature, "Metropolis," by world famous anime directors, Rintaro/Katsuhiro Ohtomo, a 12 minute Resfest select short, "Leave Luck to Heaven," by an award winning director, Todd Lincoln, among numerous other projects.

In theater, I produced a traditional Japanese monkey performance for the White House, hosted by Barbara Bush, and world premiere of Grand Kabuki style Japanese monkey stage, a Sarumawashi Samurai Story at Lincoln Center, in New York.

Ben Jones, or "DogFace" as his friends call him, is a principal member of the renowned three-person art collective, Paper Rad (check out www.paperrad.org). Jones' works have been showcased at numerous prestigious galleries and museums, including the Contemporary Museum, Honolulu; Tate Britain, London; the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago; the Institute of Contemporary Art, London (2003), among others. The Art Review held an exhibit featuring Jones as part of the 25 Emerging US Artists at Phillips, de Pury & Company East Gallery, New York (March 10 - 24, 2005)

Jones has worked on many projects ranging from political ads on television to videos for rock bands in the United States. While recalling Keith Haring's deceptively spare street-Pop sensibility, Jones' work stakes new ground with its combination of color fields, seas of cartoon-like characters, otherworldly environments, and what he describes as "meta-graffiti." His most recent work, Super Mario Movie, a fifteen-minute video made in collaboration with Cory Arcangel took the form of a reprogrammed 8-bit Nintendo video in which Mario navigates a psychedelic crumbling world of corrupted data. 

Stuart Argabright has been creating hybrids of electronic and acoustic music, forming innovative groups and releasing records since arriving in NYC in 1978. He has served as Music Director for artist Robert Longo, collaborating with actress Sean Young and dancer Bill T Jones, as well as working extensively with author William Gibson. Stuart has also worked on a series of projects with companies & clients such as IBM's Advanced CG Div., Japan's Nikkei Pub., ASK/Kodansha/EMI, Nippon TV, Lofty and ANA's Wingspan Magazine. Between 1997 and 2001 Argabright and partners created over 75 Soundtracks for NY Times TV clients Discovery Channel & The Learning Channel, leading to an Emmy Award Nomination for 2001. Since then Stuart has been busy re-releasing back catalog notably "The Dominatrix Sleeps Tonight" '80's club hit which reached #1 in late 2003 in Europe.

Paul Geluso achieved his Master Degree in Music at the New York University. Since 1999 he has been composing electro-acoustic music and sound scores for j mandle performance, a New York based experimental arts organization that creates site specific performances in unexpected locations with the intention to heighten the public's perception of its everyday environment. His electronic music compositions have been presented at major institutions in New York City including The New Museum of Contemporary Art, Cooper- Hewitt School of Design, The Storefront for Art and Architecture and Gale Gates Et Al. 

Geluso is a full time lecturer of audio art at New York University and State University of New York at Oneonta. As audio engineer he has worked at Harvestworks Digital Media Arts with artists like Vito Acconci, Marina Rosenfeld, Christian Marclay, Phil Niblock, Stephen Vitiello who use sound in their creative work. He has mastered and mixed award-winning films and performed on many albums. Recent awards include the individual artist grant in composition from New York State Council on the Arts, the John E. Robinson Foundation and Meet the Composer.

How much work went into making the video and each of the music tracks?

Manabu: Ben Jones himself made the video for Pac-Man Jam. I was in Tokyo at the time when he sent me the rough cut of the video. It blew my mind. He told me he did it in a couple of days. It was amazing how fast he could work. 

For each song, we spend lot of time researching artists. Once we find someone whom we want to work with, the process begins. Since Pac-Man is such a famous brand, we must make sure to protect it. Some years back, there was a major lawsuit over a song called "Game Over" that used Pac-Man's sound elements without proper permission and respect. We are dead serious about Pac-Man, his life and future.

We have certain guidelines for creative process but the bottom line is that the music must show "passion" for Pac-Man. The music needs to deliver the elements of Pac-Man recognizable to the fan's ears, enjoyable to them and the rest is up to the artist. It is a collaborative process between artist, me/us and NAMCO BANDAI Games, the owner of Pac-Man.

Where do you obtain the sounds you used in the video and each of the tracks, and did you have to seek permission to use these samples?

Manabu: Yes and yes and yes. We are an authorized licensee of the Pac-Man sound elements and visual images. As I mentioned before, NAMCO (before they merged with BANDAI) and I go way back and I believe we have mutual trust about this creative process and business.

What was your favorite track to work on?

Manabu: I love them all. They are all different and lovable.

Which track did you find the most difficult to create or mix?

Manabu: Well. I must say the first one since we did not know what to expect. But, then again, all songs are difficult first and then once you know the direction ... you go with the flow. We make sure everybody is happy, including NAMCO BANDAI Games.

How did Namco use the video and songs and who owns the rights to them now? 

Manabu: The songs and video are co-owned by NAMCO BANDAI Games and us. NAMCO BANDAI Games can use the songs for whatever purpose they want for their games, ring tones, etc., and we can do the same as long as we both agree the use of the songs are proper and would not offend the brand's image.

How can we obtain a copy of the video and various tracks? 

Manabu: The video is NOT available for public viewing. You need to send us an email for ID and password. We allow media, journalists, students, and educators to watch, and maybe the must see fans with strict consent from us. We consider it as an artwork.... not just a promo video and we do not want the public to think it represents Pac-Man and games in any way. It is a separate thing worth protection from wrong uses.

All songs can be downloaded from the various download services like iTunes, Sony Connect, and more. You can access them from: www.greetingcats.com/PAC-MAN. If you are a MySpace kind of person, you can listen to the songs and post comments at www.myspace.com/greetingcatsmusic.

iTunes for downloads:

Pac-Man Jam:
http://phobos.apple.com/WebObjects/MZStore.woa/wa/viewAlbum?playListId=200276707

Pac-Man Industries:
http://phobos.apple.com/WebObjects/MZStore.woa/wa/viewAlbum?playListId=199896568

Pac-Man Mission:
http://phobos.apple.com/WebObjects/MZStore.woa/wa/viewAlbum?playListId=199844221

Only very limited copies of Pac-Man Jam CD is available for purchase from http://www.cdbaby.com/benjones, or Amazon.com

This one is very special because it carries the Pac-Man's official 25th anniversary logo. Most fans buy the CD, which comes in a yellow retro jacket, and keep it unopened and then download the track from iTunes for 99¢. We began noticing some CDs are being sold at a higher price in auction sites. Once the current inventory is gone, THAT'S IT!

Are there future plans to release other Pac-Man tracks?

Manabu: Yes. We are working on them right now. We hope to continue until the 30th Anniversary to release a compilation album and keep going as long as we can.

Is there anything else you would like to tell our readers about Greeting Cats or this project?

Manabu: Greeting Cats (or many call them Fortune Cats in English) is the literal translation of Maneki Neko, a Japanese charm that traditionally merchants kept in their establishments to bring the luck, fortune, and customers to them. They all have their front paws up, either left or right.

We thought it would be nice and symbolic if we can bring not only the fortune, but also people together to create something great.

We are a consortium of artists, filmmakers, musicians, writers, educators, etc., who have something to express in their own way. 

As a company, we offer services that combine the functions of production and holding companies. Greeting Cats excels in the creation and development of a wide variety of media. From feature films, to video games, television series, music, marketing, and pure educational content, we are committed to producing world-class live action and animated material for a competitive and evolving global marketplace. 

Further, Greeting Cats specializes in the international management of Intellectual Property Rights and is dedicated to enhancing revenue potential through the development of ancillary goods such as toys, music, stationary, and other secondary market items. 

We do take quality, message, and education very seriously.

Our core members have been in entertainment and/or educational businesses over fifteen years, in the USA and Japan, working internationally with other creators and educators around the world. If we cannot do ourselves, we know other people who can.

We are very proud of the Pac-Man music series, and it is one of the most important projects for us. We hope not only the fans but also the general public will become aware of the project and support. 

More at Greeting Cats main HP: http://www.greetingcats.com

Manabu Nagaoka Bio and Demo: http://www.greetingcats.com/demo

Thank you for allowing us to interview you! 

Manabu: THANK YOU!

Now this deserves a Power Pellet Plus! Wocka! Wocka!

First Published January 2007