The Great Beep Forward
By Ashley Bennett
If someone mentions video game music, what probably comes to mind is either the dawn of the arcade age of gaming, complete with stereotypical high and low pitches of beeps and bloops. Or perhaps your nostalgia flashes you back to 1985 with the classic Super Mario Bros. theme song (which to this day still gets stuck in your head—admit it.) Video game soundtracks have evolved much since those days, and with that growth comes Video Games Live (VGL), a performance which has transformed that old-school bleep into an awesome musical performance by a full orchestra. This is what VGL is about: bringing the music created for video games to a live musical venue for everyone, gamers and non-gamers alike, to enjoy.
Tommy Tallarico, video game composer for 21+ years now, is extremely passionate about the role of video-game music in our culture today, especially when mentioning the birth of VGL, which debuted in 2005 at the Hollywood Bowl in L.A. “Maybe I was naive or crazy, but I always thought this is something that would be successful. I never took ‘no’ for an answer. I always believed in the idea and the concept and I wanted to make a statement to the world.” Despite the common assumption that “young kids don’t go to orchestras” as Tallarico quotes the typical naysayers, 11,000 people attended the first VGL performance.
The performance isn’t just one long, monotonous orchestrated version of Final Fantasy. With a variety of talented musicians, a large selection of musical genres are performed from multiple games. “The symphony doesn’t have to be old and boring” says Tallarico.” It takes the energy and excitement of a rock concert and mixes it with stunning visuals.” One minute you’ll be listening to a beautiful compilation from Advent Rising and the next you’ll be screaming for the rock infused tunes of Castlevania. With over 60 games for performance fodder, the lineup possibilities seem unending. Sure, there are the popular tunes from The Legend of Zelda, Sonic the Hedgehog, The Super Mario Bros. theme and even Tetris which are widely recognized. However there is also a variety of newer, more elaborate soundtracks which have never been performed live before from games like Assassin’s Creed, God of War, Halo, Portal, Uncharted, and World of Warcraft. To make this a more personal experience, many of the composers who labored to write the music that accompanies these games conduct their pieces live.
VGL presents the audience with more than just a pleasurable musical experience. With the inclusion of awesome videos and interactive performances, Tallarico prides himself in providing a unique experience for every single audience member.
“It’s not just about the music. The visuals, the interactivity, the design and the fun are what it’s about and all of those are just as important.”
Each song is presented with its own synchronized video clip projected onto massive screens, all enhanced with a state-of-the-art lighting system which visually emphasizes colors and emotions for each particular game. The most interactive trait of VGL includes taking audience members on stage to play a game on one of the large screens. Earlier this year when VGL played at the Nokia Theatre in L.A., two audience members were invited to play the classic game of Frogger right there on the big screen. As they competed for the highest score, the orchestra played music from the game, reflecting time speed-ups and deaths as it affected the players. The core reason we play video games is because it’s fun and VGL is definitely bringing a new type of fun to the symphony.
Gamer or not, this performance will be unlike any bleep-bloops you’ve ever heard.
Video Games Live at Cal State San Bernardino, Coussoulis Arena, 5500 University Pkwy., San Bernardino, (909) 537-5000; www.videogameslive.com; www.arena.csusb.edu. Sat, Oct. 29. Show begins 7:30PM. $33-$55. $15 for 17 age and under.