VIDEO GAME MUSIC: FROM LIVING ROOMS TO CONCERT HALLS
VIDEO GAME MUSIC: FROM LIVING ROOMS TO CONCERT HALLS
The video game industry has become one of the most lucrative industries in the entertainment business. The same can be said about the video game music industry, a genre that due to huge technological improvements, has rapidly developed from its early simplistic electronic nature heard in the 1980s to massive orchestral and vocal soundtracks that can nowadays be heard live in concert halls worldwide.
During the past couple of decades, game music has been performed more and more often in concert halls and it has been attracting the attention of many who would otherwise not go to a live orchestral concert. Video game music continues growing in popularity, moving from obscurity and becoming an stablished genre full of possibilities for development. The music is very diverse and it presents various musical styles from big band jazz to large orchestral ensembles combined with electronic instruments and often large choirs. It is an ever-expanding and highly experimental medium that inspires countless composers to keep on pushing the envelope to the point that the music seems to gradually become a genre on its own.
Japanese Nobuo Uematsu, is considered by many one of the most prolific composers in the video game industry. His work in the video game series Final Fantasy started already in 1987 and even though the games at that time had very simple music due to its software limitations, Uematsu was able to “transcend the simple electronic bleeps of the time.” (https://www.mfiles.co.uk/video-game-music-history.htm). Nowadays Uematu’s scores are performed by orchestras around the world and it has attracted top tier musicians who have arranged and orchestrated the works into a variety of styles and forms.
The current music living in the world of gaming has a strong connection with contemporary culture and is very accessible to mainstream, this music is entering concerts halls and bringing along with it a brand new crowd. The virtual universes created in these games- where past and future worlds collide, rich and complex characters are introduced, fights between good and evil transpire- provide a diverse atmosphere for composers and the use of a symphonic orchestra seems like the perfect match to express such large spectrum of colours, magnifying the player’s immersive experience.
The trend of orchestrating video game music started with composer Bruce Broughton, who wrote the music for the game Heart of Darkness in 1998; the first game ever to contain original music scored for an actual orchestra. Since then, the genre has developed exponentially and is attracting many composers and producers interested in investing more into the possibilities of this new industry. What used to be considered a lesser type of music is turning into a major game player and finding its place in the art world.
HOW IS THE COMPOSITIONAL PROCESS?
Video game music isn’t a passive experience but an essential part of the foreground. The composer must take into account what kind of decisions the player will make and adjust the music accordingly. The music is somewhat cyclical and should be able to jump from one section to another seamlessly and still have some logic to it. It must be recognisable throughout the game; each theme or effect is often connected with either a character, a challenge, a place and so forth. The composer must keep its compositional ideas fluid and moveable resulting in a process based on layers that can be interchanged, combined or overlapped.
Different from music composed for movies, there is no linear story since games outcomes are full of surprise elements and very flexible. The music is somewhat serving the game but at the same time it becomes an intrinsic part of its development, sometimes even influencing the player’s decisions. The player very often develops an emotional connection with the character he is on the games, therefore, the music becomes very personal and intimate. The composer creates music motifs for every character, villain, and battle, all in the service of elevating each game’s story. You may not always hear memorable melodic lines, instead there might be a collection of small gestures of chords, short motives, whispers, sound effects and silence.
**Finnish composer Jonne Valtonen has worked extensively with music for video games for many years. I had a chance to chat with him a bit about his music, compositional process, thoughts for the future of video game music. The talk can be found here:
COULD VIDEO GAME MUSIC BE A GATEWAY TO CLASSICAL MUSIC?
The world of classical music is often wondering, or perhaps struggling on how to guide and attract the next generation of audiences. As example, about 62 percent of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra’s audience is 55 or over, according to The New York Times. Classical music education in schools seems to be often limited or non-existent due to financial cuts or lack of interest. The possibility of live music loosing its value on younger generations, especially the value of live classical music concerts, seems very real and for many concert organisers, very concerning.
Some concert organisers and producers started to see video game music as a bridge to a whole new demographic with the possibility of bringing new life into the symphonic world. A game music concert attracts a whole new audience and for many that will be the first contact they will have with an orchestra. These concerts very often evolve the listener with multiple senses, combining the performance of the music with videos on the background portraying scenes of the games, immediately transposing the gamers into a very immersive experience.
Game music concerts could very well be a tool used to spark the interest of young people to enter the world of standard classical music repertoire. The impact of a live music concert can be of epic proportions and gamers could be motivated to return to concert halls and explore other orchestral works. The fascination with video games and all that is connected to it has awaked an enthusiasm in many, leading to spontaneous engagement with all that is connected to the world of gaming, including high level arrangements and top tier quality original music played by world class musicians.
The managing director of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, James Williams, told The Telegraph in 2018 that he believes computer games are an important “access point” for young people to experience classical music for the first time: “I think exposure to orchestral music in all its forms is a fantastic thing. It is encouraging to hear that there are platforms and opportunities for young people to engage with orchestral music, albeit in different mediums. It is about sparking their interest.” (https://www.classicfm.com/music- news/video-games-children-classical-music/).
German producer Thomas Böcker organised in 2003 the first live orchestral performance of video game music outside of Japan. The concert was played in Leipzig, and eventually took off leading to a series of world tours and sold out performances including orchestras like the London Symphony Orchestra and the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic. According to Böcker, the concerts came to fruition at a time when orchestras were looking for a new away to attract younger audiences, for Böcker “all you need is to build a bridge between you and the audience” (https://thespinoff.co.nz/pop-culture/25-10-2016/a-chat-with-the- man-who-brought-video-games-to-the-concert-hall). That bridge could be clearly seen when composer Nobuo Uematsu joined the Los Angeles Philharmonic in 2004 for a single performance of his most famous work, the sound track music for Final Fantasy. The show sold out in three days upsetting many who couldn’t get tickets. (https://www.npr.org/ 2008/04/13/89565567/the-evolution-of-video-game-music)
In Finland, since 2014, many professional orchestras have programmed game music. Turku Philharmonic Orchestra was the first ensemble to present game music in Finland, followed by the the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra, which presented a program celebrating original game scores arranged for an orchestra combined with classical pieces that are featured in games. Here in our city, the Oulu Sinfonia played in 2015, the SCORE game music concert, featuring music from many of the most popular video games, from the likes of Super MarioTM, The Legend of ZeldaTM, Final Fantasy and Skyrim among others. The orchestra went back to the game music world in 2016 with the program SAGAS, which due to such high demand, needed an additional concert. Oulu Music Festival played in 2019, music from the Final Fantasy series. The list of concerts throughout Finland goes on and on.
This year the industry celebrated another breakthrough with video game scores being performed by an electronically expanded Royal Philharmonic Orchestra at the BBC Proms with a program description of “From 8-Bit to Infinity” on August 1st, 2022. It was the first time ever that video game music was included in the event, which is described as “the world’s greatest classical music festival”. The video game industry has produced a huge and enthusiastic global audience and it is also attracting the attention of a wider entertainment industry, it is gradually moving from a niche sector to a mainstream worthy field with very serious composers joining the “game”.
SOME EXAMPLES OF VIDEO GAME ORCHESTRAL WORKS
-David Garcia Diaz: Arise (2020) -Gareth Coker: Ori (2020)
-Vincent Diamante: Sky (2019) -Ian Livingstone: Oure (2017)
– Uematsu: Final Fantasy VII *arrangement Jonne Valtonen
-Jonne Valtonen: Albion Online (2017)
– Jessica Curry: Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture (2015)
-James Hannigan: Coming of the Light (2013)