My Favourite Game

The classical mu­si­cian on work­ing with Austin Win­tory, catch­ing Poké­mon, and the link be­tween Atari and cheese

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Mu­si­cian Tina Guo ex­plains the link be­tween Atari and cheese

Tina Guo is a cel­list, com­poser and pub­lished poet. Along­side her own cre­ations, Guo has made a name for her­self per­form­ing on a wide va­ri­ety of TV, movie and videogame sound­tracks, in­clud­ing Di­ablo III, the Call Of Duty: Black Ops games, and Jour­ney. More re­cently she has re­leased Game On, an al­bum of videogame cov­ers. What led you to cre­ate Game On? Videogam­ing has al­ways been a part of my life. My first ex­pe­ri­ence hap­pened when I moved from China to Amer­ica. I was five years old, and my lit­tle brother – who was al­ready in Amer­ica – had an Atari sys­tem and we played this Tarzan game. Ac­tu­ally, I re­mem­ber the day I first played that, I also tried cheese for the first time! Af­ter that my brother had a SNES, and we played a lot of Zelda, Su­per Mario World and Don­key Kong Coun­try, and the mu­sic in those games is so iconic, so that’s al­ways stuck with me.

Any­way, I grew up and moved to LA, and I started work­ing on a lot of scores – movie, TV and videogame sound­tracks. It just kind of hap­pened nat­u­rally, like ev­ery­thing fell into place. Over the past ten years I’ve re­leased a lot of dif­fer­ent al­bums – orig­i­nals and cov­ers – and I pre­vi­ously did an al­bum of cov­ers of mu­sic from TV and movies. So nat­u­rally the next thing to do was videogames. How did you choose the com­po­si­tions you wanted to cover when putting the al­bum to­gether? We had a hard time be­cause there’s so much awe­some mu­sic from so many games. Orig­i­nally we were only go­ing to do ten tracks, but it just ex­panded and we set­tled on 14. I tried to pick a va­ri­ety, be­cause game mu­sic re­ally en­com­passes every genre that’s out there, and I didn’t want it to all sound the same. And then we had to figure out how to do them all in a way that sounds dif­fer­ent enough but still re­spects the orig­i­nal.

The whole process took a cou­ple of months to fi­nalise. When we started plan­ning the al­bum I was on tour at the time with Hans Zim­mer, and I wasn’t able to start record­ing or ar­rang­ing straight away. There were some com­po­si­tions that I knew I had to do – you know, Zelda, Poké­mon and Mario are the games I played grow­ing up. And most of the songs on the al­bum are ac­tu­ally med­leys be­cause I couldn’t choose just one track. We kind of mushed it all in, even if it was just a few sec­onds of some­thing [laughs]. You worked with Austin Win­tory on the score for Jour­ney. How was that? I did Flow as well. Austin and I ac­tu­ally met in col­lege, so we’ve known each other since around 2004. We recorded it in his stu­dio, which was just a room at the time; no fancy equip­ment. We spent quite a few days record­ing the mu­sic, and then when it be­came such a big suc­cess it was re­ally a pleas­ant sur­prise.

That was an amaz­ing ex­pe­ri­ence, and I al­ways wanted to do my own ver­sion of it. We’ve added more elec­tron­ics to it, so that it grows in a sim­i­lar, but dif­fer­ent, type of way. I was so ner­vous to show it to Austin, be­cause I was scared that he would hate it. So I was very re­lieved when he liked it – and I don’t think he was pre­tend­ing be­cause he’s usu­ally very hon­est with me [laughs]. Have you had sim­i­lar trep­i­da­tion with any of the other tracks? Well, I’m friends with Jeremy Soule, the com­poser of Skyrim’s score. I was very scared to play him my cover. Orig­i­nally it’s an all-male vo­cal choir thing, and we worked in a lit­tle bit of male vo­cals, but – and this is go­ing to sound ridicu­lous – I also sang on that us­ing a growl­ing, an­i­mal man voice. It was me, my co-pro­ducer, the as­sis­tant... we kid­napped ran­dom peo­ple in the stu­dio, dragged them into the room and said, ‘Here, chant these words in a re­ally mas­cu­line voice.’”

“I tried to pick a va­ri­ety, be­cause game mu­sic en­com­passes every genre out there”

What kind of games do you tend to play these days? I’m a worka­holic, so it’s dif­fi­cult to find time to do much of any­thing, in­clud­ing play­ing videogames. I’m more a ca­sual gamer, now. I play Poké­mon Go – this morn­ing I caught two Poké­mon from my bed in the ho­tel – and Tetris a lot. Tetris is my long­est re­la­tion­ship with a game. It’s easy, it’s fast and I can play it any­where. And how about your favourite game? My favourite game of all time, even though I haven’t played it in quite a few years, is Poké­mon Snap. It was so much fun! I’m fan­ta­sis­ing about a VR ver­sion of Poké­mon Snap. That would be epic.

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