Paul Catalanotto: Remarkable music gracing gaming

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A scene from the computer game Skyrim. The music, composed by Jeremy Soule, is extraordinarily sophisticated and evocative

Video game consoles are in short supply; likely due to the seemingly never ending lockdown continuation. Video games have become a means of social interaction with friends and passing the time inside when outside and gathering in person is nearly entirely off limits.

Unlike from years past, many of the contemporary games feature stunning graphics and rich storytelling. However, next time you play a video game or your children play one, stop and listen. Seriously, stop and listen to the music of the game.

Today’s video game music often features full orchestral compositions [and] composers are now fighting over writing music for video games

At the turn of the millennium, attendance at most classical orchestral concerts was in decline and Beethoven in blue jeans wasn’t putting enough butts in the seats. A video game insider and music composer, Tommy Tallarico, realised the need to foster a love for symphony orchestra music among the next generation. In 2002, Tallarico incorporated his idea of a casual, fun, symphony orchestra concert of video game music put on by gamers for gamers with the goal of bridging Mozart and Mario.

Tallarico’s vision became reality when “Video Games Live” debuted at the Hollywood Bowl in 2005. Since then, Tallarico’s Video Games Live concerts have gone on to win a wall of awards around the world. From save-point to stage, arguably one of the most famous pieces of video game music came from famed Japanese composer Nobuto Uemantsu who drew inspiration from Carmina Burana for his One-Winged Angel; the soundtrack for the final boss battle in Final Fantasy VII.

In tribute to Holst’s famous ominous drumming in Mars, the Airship theme from Super Mario 3 echoes Holst. Video game company Konami retired its theme music for Metal Gear Solid after the games third installment because of a possible copyright infringement as the song was very similar to Sviridov’s Winter Road.

The Great Fairy Fountain found in some of the more recent versions of The Legend of Zelda games features an 8-bar loop heavily inspired by Debussy’s Clair de Lune. In 2011, Civilization IV became the first video game to have a song, Baba Yetu, win a Grammy; its lyrics are the Lord’s Prayer in Swahili. Moreover, the parade of the athletes during the 2020 Tokyo Olympics showcased music from various video games, including Final Fantasy, Chrono Trigger, and Monster Hunter to name a few.

Unlike the stereotypical beeps and boops from most video games prior to 2000, today’s video game music often features full orchestral compositions. Due to the inclusion of full orchestral music and with the possibility of millions of people listening to their music for untold hours, composers are now fighting over writing music for video games. Additionally, the beeps and boops of yesteryear are today transformed into composers’ full orchestral visions.

It’s easy to shrug our shoulders as adults and let family total hundreds of hours of game play. Can we take interest in their interests? We must. Ask about the music to the games they play. Better yet, find a video game playlist on your favourite streaming service and give it a try.

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